UM: Age-Friendly University
By 2035 the number of adults older than 65 in the U.S. is projected to be 78 million, the number of children younger than 18 to be 76.7 million. For the first time in history, there will be more older adults than children living in the U.S. Right now, 16.62% of the population of Montana is over 65. These numbers point to the crucial need to prepare students to work with older adults and their families across many contexts; to explore innovative ways to focus teaching practices, research, and community outreach for older adults; and to offer opportunities that improve physical and psychological health outcomes.
Recognition of the University of Montana as an “Age-Friendly University” may be a step in that direction. Recently UM was welcomed as a member of the Age-Friendly University (AFU) Global Network because of programs and activities for older adults and UM’s potential to create additional opportunities. These include the wealth of non-credit courses offered by the Montana Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (MOLLI), tuition waivers for Montana residents over 65 who want to take undergraduate coursework, and activities sponsored by groups such as the UM Retirees’ Association (UMRA) and MOLLI.
The AFU designation also recognizes the goal of many UM undergraduate and graduate students to focus on older adults and their families in health-related and policy areas. The Montana Geriatric Education Center, the Institute for Gerontology Education, and an interdisciplinary gerontology minor all provide opportunities. For example, the Memory and Executive Function Lab is conducting a project called “Neuropsychology of Aging” that examines cognitive changes that often accompany aging. In 2011, students initiated the UM Gerontology Society to promote community involvement and inform others about gerontological research. As the population of older adults grows and individuals experience increased longevity, higher education can respond in many ways: by offering programs for students who wish to study aging and work with older adults, by developing innovative educational practices to improve teaching to older adults, by growing research on aging, and by expanding occasions to engage on campus.
Incorporating the principles outlined for an AFU campus also can lead to changes that benefit all students. Age alone does not translate to special needs, but attention to modifications required for some older adults reminds us that such modifications may be imperative for some individuals at all ages. Similarly, changes in teaching practices to keep older adults engaged may be as beneficial for diverse students at any age. Finally, the presence of older students on campus provides an opportunity for mutual benefits, with older adults enriching the classroom with their knowledge and experience and traditional-aged students bringing their own perspectives and knowledge.
The UM Retirees’ Association includes faculty, staff, and administrators who interact with one another, sponsor educational and social activities on campus, volunteer at the university and in the community, and financially support the UMRA Legacy Scholarship for students at both the four-year university and two-year Missoula College. We invite older adults who are interested in a second-chapter career, want to stay competitive in their fields, are looking for intellectual challenges, want to complete a degree, or are seeking the chance to interact with a vibrant community to enroll in some coursework at UM. Take advantage of the tuition-only waiver for undergraduate coursework, sign up for a MOLLI course, or volunteer in programs that could use your expertise. Help make your university an exciting place for learners at every age.
Editorial published in Missoulian, March 19, 2019, by UMRA Executive Board Secretary