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Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes


In the fall of 2000, the Foundation began to consider programs targeted toward more mature students not necessarily well served by standard continuing education curricula. Courses often attract students of all ages eager to accumulate units to complete degrees or to acquire specific job skills. By contrast, the interest of many older adults, especially those who have retired, is in learning for the joy of learning – without examinations or grades – and keeping in touch with a larger world.

The Foundation was fortunate to have two immediate examples of successful lifelong learning programs to inform its deliberations. One was the Fromm Institute of Lifelong Learning at the University of San Francisco; the second was Senior College at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

First Grants

In early 2001, an endowment grant was given to the University of Southern Maine to improve and extend its excellent programs, and the name “Senior College” was changed to “Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.” Shortly afterward, Sonoma State University, a member of the California State University (CSU) system became a grantee. Both programs progressed admirably, and the Foundation decided to enter the “lifelong learning” field in a significant fashion.

National Expansion

Beginning in the fall of 2002, the Foundation issued Requests for Proposals to campuses in the California State University and University of California systems. Grants of $100,000 were made on the understanding that once a lifelong learning institute was launched, the Foundation would consider renewal of the grant for two or more years with a view to providing an endowment gift of no less than $1 million if the institute was able to demonstrate potential for success and sustainability.

At present, the Foundation supports 121 lifelong learning programs on university and college campuses across the country, with at least one grantee in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Foundation also supports a National Resource Center for Osher Institutes which is located at Northwestern University.

Current Program

The Foundation has not been highly prescriptive in the type of lifelong learning program it has chosen to support. While one finds considerable variation among the Osher Institutes, funded programs share a common set of standards to encourage excellence and promote long-term sustainability and success:

• A diverse repertoire of intellectually stimulating, non-credit courses and educational activities, specifically designed for people who are 50 years of age or older;

• Participants are offered membership and significant opportunities for volunteer engagement and leadership;

• Strong support from the host institution (including a commitment to provide space or cause space to be provided for program operations);

• Established mechanisms for evaluating member satisfaction with educational offerings; and

• A sound and stable organizational structure.

The designation of each grantee as the "Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of X” is a condition of the Foundation’s grant-making as is the use of a logo consisting of a simple circle with the words “Osher Lifelong Learning Institute” arranged within.

The Foundation’s lifelong learning program is not receiving proposals at this time. Because the Foundation remains interested in older-adult educational programs at colleges and universities across the United States, interested parties may submit a 2-3 page letter informing the Foundation about their lifelong learning programs. Such letters will be filed and, should the Foundation decide to expand the number of its grantees in the lifelong learning area, the documents would be reviewed and appropriate communication with the applicant(s) would ensue. In keeping with the Foundation’s program requirements, any letters of introduction should address the following points:

• A short description of the nature of the lifelong learning program;

• A brief description of university support for the program;

• The staffing structure and roles that volunteers play in program development and operation;

• A description of the curriculum, including the number and frequency of courses;

• The number of dues-paying members participating in the program annually;

• Cost of membership, course fees, and related financial information; and

• Any additional comments that might prove helpful to the Foundation.