Back in college for a day
One Day University featuring favorite Ivy League professors rejuvenates lifelong learners.
Larry Luddecke's college days ended more than three decades ago, but his love of learning continues unabated. So when his wife gave him a birthday card this month, he was intrigued by her handwritten message: "Happy Birthday. You're going to college."Skip to next paragraph
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In this case "college" serves as shorthand for an unusual event called One Day University. Thanks to his wife's gift, Mr. Luddecke, a musician in Arlington, Mass., is one of 140 students spending a sunny mid-June Saturday at Mt. Ida College in Newton, Mass., listening to top-ranked professors from Ivy League schools deliver their most popular lectures.
This is no ordinary gathering of undergraduates. A majority of those in the audience are, like Luddecke, in their 50s. As baby boomers and retirees, they are here to play students-for-a-day. It's a chance to indulge their nostalgia for their college years and revel in the heady world of new ideas.
"My father was a lifelong learner," Luddecke says, clutching a pen and blue notebook in the Mt. Ida auditorium. "I think I got it from him."
As cofounder Steven Schragis welcomes the group, he jokes, "You will not be receiving a degree today from Columbia, Harvard, Brown, or Dartmouth." What they will receive is intellectual stimulation during four 70-minute classes on everything from 'Moby Dick' to the science of happiness, politics, and neuroscience.
The year-old venture, offering classes in seven cities in the Northeast, reflects a burgeoning interest in lifelong learning. As those in midlife and beyond enroll in everything from adult education classes to university extension courses and Elderhostel programs, they are feeding a hunger for an active intellectual life. Instead of a condo on the ninth green, some are choosing housing on or near a college campus, where they can take advantage of classes and cultural activities.
The demand for such experiences is growing as the baby boom generation matures. Nearly half of American adults – 46 percent – will enroll in continuing-education courses this year, according to the US Department of Education.
Lifelong learning a big business
That adds up to a $6 billion business annually, according to Learning Resources Network, a Wisconsin-based consulting group. The firm projects that the industry will reach $8 billion by 2011.
"Just because you're getting older doesn't mean there isn't something new to learn," says Barbara Lofblad, who traveled from Gilford, N.H., to Newton for the event. "Everything I'm hearing today is new."
Mr. Schragis traces the inspiration for One Day University to November 2005, when he visited his daughter, a college freshman, on her campus in upstate New York. As part of the Family Weekend activities, several instructors gave parents 20- to 30-minute samples of their classes.
"Everyone was fascinated," Schragis recalls. "Parents said, 'I'd rather be going to college than paying for college.' "
From that, the concept for One Day University was born. Schragis, former director of the Learning Annex, joined forces with journalist John Galvin to seek out top professors. They researched websites and student-evaluation surveys. They talked to students and even attended classes. Their faculty now numbers about 50.
"They're not famous, except on their own campuses," Schragis says. "We thought, if students are so enamored, maybe others would be, too."
With a few exceptions, those attending these events are no longer focused on raising young families. As Schragis explains, "A lot of 30- or 40-year-olds say, 'I would love to do that, but I can't. I have to take the kids to ballet.' " Women typically account for more than half of those enrolled. Participants pay $219, with a discount for two people.
The first event last fall at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. marked an inauspicious beginning, but for a reason that had nothing to do with academics. The stumbling block? Parking. There was little.
Now most classes are held in suburban locations: Old Westbury, N.Y.; Westchester, N.Y.; Morristown, N.J.; Fairfield, Conn.; West Hartford, Conn.; and Wellesley, Mass. Another will be held in New York City. New courses are offered every five to seven weeks at each site.