Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
“You learn something new everyday.”
In my short 21 years of living, I’ve seen this ring true time and time again. Learning never really stops.
Personally, I have a strong suspicion that when I’m older, I’ll still be interested in learning and looking for ways to keep my mind as sharp and active as I can. Maintaining cognitive, social and intellectual health is important for all individuals, but especially older individuals who can experience significant declines in brain health without sufficient intellectual stimulation.
One of the many ways that people choose to keep themselves intellectually stimulated is by continuing their education. Obviously, learning happens everywhere, but a university is truly an unmatched setting for this kind of development.
The University of Maryland does have a program to support senior citizen learners called the Golden ID Program. Through this program, eligible senior citizens can take courses for credit through the university regardless of if they want to attain a degree. The caveat with this program, however, is that individuals must be at least 60 years of age, retired and must have the means to pay a hefty fee.
This program is pretty innovative and offers wonderful educational opportunities for older students, but what’s left for those who aren’t at least 60, retired or perhaps don’t want to take intensive college courses?
There is currently a gap in enrichment-based, lifelong learning programs in Prince George’s County, including College Park. This university can remedy the problem by developing its own Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to solve it.
The Lifelong Learning institute has a more lenient age requirement, bumping the minimum age of participation down to 50 years old. While these ten years might not seem like a big difference, a lot can happen in a decade. It is important to support older community members as they age, and these extra ten years give more older individuals the opportunity to take care of themselves in enriching and rewarding ways.
Additionally, members do not necessarily need to be retired. This further opens up this enrichment program to more members of the community than would be eligible for the Golden ID Program.
Through the implementation of local, community-oriented events and personally enriching academics via the Lifelong Learning Institute, the elderly population of College Park can find a like-minded community of individuals while taking interesting courses. They can also do all of this without the lofty expectations of completing intensive college courses.
This university does much to support the students on campus with a multitude of community impact and outreach efforts. The same cannot be said for elderly outreach efforts, as the only documented program the university offers is the Golden ID Program.
Outreach programs from universities are critical for community connection and engagement, and there is also a strong demand for lifelong learning programs. Older individuals in the university and the College Park community can both benefit from an enhanced relationship with each other through a program like the Lifelong Learning Institute.
Not to mention, Lifelong Learning Institutes often utilize members as volunteers to assist in program events and lead committees, giving older individuals a unique opportunity to maintain leadership skills and feel empowered to create valuable changes in their community.
The program’s course offerings cover a massive breadth of topics, such as history, art, practical skills, self-care skills and technology, just to name a few. Moreover, the courses can be offered online and in-person, ensuring that there truly is something for everyone.
With more classes, community engagement and resources compared to the Golden ID Program, the Lifelong Learning Institute would give a greater number of older students the opportunity to take part in personally enriching activities while paying a membership fee as low as $50 plus a tuition fee set by this university.
While other local universities such as Towson University and Montgomery College have this program, this university needs one to support the College Park community. As the flagship university of the state, this university has a heightened degree of responsibility to take initiative and serve the community.
As such, creating a program like the Lifelong Learning Institute is a valuable way to give back to older individuals in the community. Furthermore, with this university’s size, stature, diversity and proximity to Washington, D.C., a Lifelong Learning Institute would settle into College Park nicely.
Given all of the benefits a Lifelong Learning Institute can afford the elderly community, there’s no good reason why it has not been implemented here yet. This university is indebted to the community, and with a program like this, has the chance to provide extensive and unique opportunities for the senior citizens of College Park.
Vrisha Sookraj is a junior psychology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org