A revolution is underway

No longer content to “retire” their minds, people aged 50+ are demanding learning opportunities, brain training exercises, and brain fitness tips. They’re onto something: staying engaged and trying stimulating new things may actually help keep their brains healthy and fit.

If you want to join their ranks, here are some resources:


Imagine yourself studying the ecology of the Everglades…in Florida. Studying the poetry of Robert Frost…walking the roads of Vermont. Studying Spanish…in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

These are just three of the 8,000 programs recently offered by Elderhostel, America’s oldest and largest not-for-profit educational travel organization for adults 55 and over.

In 1975, 220 people signed up for the first Elderhostel programs at a handful of New Hampshire college campuses. Today Elderhostel programs are offered in more than 90 countries to about 170,000 people each year. Prices range from under $100 to more than $5,000.

Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs)

What would you like to learn about? That’s the question 100,000 students of retirement age answer for themselves at 500 Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs), sponsored by community, state and private colleges and universities.

A group of retired New York City public school teachers spearheaded the first program in 1962. There are no grades or tests at LLIs, no prerequisite degrees of any kind. Each one is distinct, offering its own mix of non-credit classes led by LLI members, faculty from host colleges or outside experts.

For example, participants at the LLI sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Asheville pay $40 for membership and $100 per term. Recent offerings have included “The Energy Crisis—Realities and Myths,” Dracula! In Fact, Fiction and Fun!,” and a human anatomy and physiology course called “Wonderfully Made.”

Senior Centers

The nation’s first senior center opened its doors 60 years ago in New York. Others picked up on the idea that older people enjoy having a place nearby to meet and pursue their interests. Today there are 15,000 senior centers in towns and cities across the country serving close to 10 million older adults each year.

Many provide exceptional lifelong learning programs. Among them is The Senior Center, Inc. in Charlottesville, VA. Members do ceramics and play racquetball. They participate in book discussion groups, gather for workshops offered by the computer club, trade investment ideas in the investors forum, and share philosophical debates at the Socrates Café.


Are you computer-phobic but willing to face your fear? Then SeniorNet may be just the learning opportunity you’ve been waiting for. More than one million adults 50+ have learned about computers and the Internet thanks to the non-profit organization, founded in 1986. Training sessions geared to adult learners are taught by volunteers at 240 SeniorNet Learning Centers around the country.

Basic registration is free and allows participants to access chatrooms via the SeniorNet website and to receive a monthly electronic newsletter. A $40 annual membership fee provides computer and Internet access, as well as eligibility for computer training at one of the centers.

OASIS Institutes

OASIS has enriched the lives of hundreds of thousands of mature adults over the past quarter century. Sponsored by Federated Department Stores and the May Company Stores Foundation, this education and volunteer service program offers classes in the arts, humanities, health, and computer technology in 26 cities around the country. OASIS also trains volunteers for intergenerational assignments.

Recent course offerings in Chicago included a $40 program and tour called “Behind the Scenes at Cook County Jail and Boot Camp.” In San Diego a financial journalist offered a $6 seminar about annuities, mutual funds and other dangerous investments. And in Pittsburgh OASIS volunteers were trained to tutor children in reading and tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Shepherd’s Centers of America

The mission of Shepherd’s Centers of America is to empower older adults to use their knowledge and skills for the good of their communities. Founded by a minister in 1971, this network of 75 interfaith centers in 21 states provides health enhancement, cultural enrichment and lifelong learning opportunities for mature adults.

Centers offer health screenings, nutritional education, and exercise classes. Lifelong learning programs include college-type classes, computer and personal finance workshops, and arts and crafts instruction.

Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP)

This federal program is offered by Experience Works, the first nationwide service specifically designed to help older workers find jobs matching their abilities and work preferences. The goal is to provide thousands of low-income and unemployed adults 55+ with the training and skills they need to compete and retain jobs in the private sector.

During the program, participants gain experience by working at faith-based and community organizations. They are paid minimum wage for an average of 20 hours per week. More than a third (38%) go on to find permanent jobs, for example as teachers’ aides, emergency dispatchers, care providers, and clerical assistants.

Fee Waiver Programs

Interested in starting or finishing a degree? Many community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities encourage older adults to take courses on campus by offering tuition and fee reduction or waivers. For example, California State University offers a fee waiver program to qualified persons 60 years and older. The program is designed to encourage state residents who meet university requirements for admission to enroll in regular session courses on a space available basis. These kinds of programs may be called a variety of names, including “ElderCollege,” and “Fee Waiver,” “Over 60,” and “60 Plus” programs.