Did you know that the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University is one of 121 lifelong learning programs endowed by the Bernard Osher Foundation? Each of the programs is located at a college or university and each shares the mission of providing intellectually stimulating non-credit classes and programs for adults who are 50 and older. There is at least one Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) in each of the 50 states and in the District of Columbia.
The National Resource Center (NRC) for Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes was established to serve as a comprehensive resource for the entire network of OLLI programs. In addition to providing professional development opportunities to Osher staff and volunteers, the NRC is a terrific source of information on effective educational programming and best practices for operating successful and enriching OLLI programs. According to the NRC website, it is important to note that “the national Osher Lifelong Learning Institute network is not a franchise and it is not centralized in operations or governance. Each institute is unique and operates as an independent initiative of its host institution with offerings tailored to meet the needs and interests of its community.”
While there are a lot of similarities between the different Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, they are each unique. Each requires membership for participation in its OLLI program and each offers activities beyond the classroom that promote social engagement and offer the chance to become more involved through volunteerism. But the types of courses and activities differ from program to program. Throughout the OLLI network, there is some common ground in the types of courses that are viewed as most popular amongst the members. In descending order, the top categories for course areas are: history; fine arts; current affairs; literature; religion, philosophy, spirituality; and health and wellness.*
Growth of Osher at Towson University
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University has nearly 800 members. While we have been growing in size over recent years, the median membership count across the OLLI network is close to 1,200 members. There are over 160,000 members of Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes overall. Of these members, over 24,000 volunteer on committees and through other volunteer opportunities at their institution. Osher at Towson University is happy to have over 80 volunteers who have helped throughout the past year.
Survey data provided by the NRC shows that among all of the OLLIs, the gender ratio among members is around 2/3 female and 1/3 male. Anecdotally, this is similar to what is found at the Osher at Towson University. Across the board, OLLIs report that the majority of their members are in the 65-75 age range. At Towson University, we don’t have complete data on the ages of our members, but we do know that we have some members who are in their early 50s and some who are in their 90s, and many in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.
At the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University there are typically several instructors who teach as volunteers each semester however most are paid an honorarium. There are some OLLIs that have volunteer instructors only.
The OLLI programs are enhanced by special interest groups with more than 70% of OLLI organizations offering special interest groups for their members. Here, “The World We Live In” discussion group, the “Writing Our Lives” writing group, and various book clubs offer terrific opportunities to connect with others who have shared interests. Participation on day trips is another avenue for members to enjoy time with other members while exploring the region. Osher at Towson University is among the nearly 80 OLLI programs that offer travel opportunities to their members.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes across the country are all different but all offer wonderful opportunities for learning and social engagement to their members. At Towson University, we continue to strive for excellence for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program to benefit our members. In the world of “lifelong learning”, the resources from the Bernard Osher Foundation and the NRC for Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes make our organization stronger as we benefit from the great supply of shared information and expertise present in the entire OLLI network.
*The statistical information on the OLLI network comes from the National Resource Center for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes. Information relating directly to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University was derived internally.