Academic journal article Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics

Bridging the Academic/Practice Gap in Gerontology and Geriatrics: Mapping a Route to Mutual Success

Academic journal article Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics

Bridging the Academic/Practice Gap in Gerontology and Geriatrics: Mapping a Route to Mutual Success

Article excerpt

The job of higher education in gerontology is to teach students about our aging society, to assist in developing a workforce to provide goods and services to this growing population, and to generate research and evaluation data that can improve programs and services. Despite a universal knowledge about the aging of our nation and an expansion of academic programs in gerontology and geriatrics, producing professionals to work with older people across the range of needed areas has proven to be difficult. Attracting adequate numbers of students to gerontology and geriatrics as practitioners or researchers, whether in nursing, social work, medicine, social service administration, or long-term care, has been a consistent issue of concern (Anderson, 1999; Blanchette & Flynn, 2001; Cummings & Adler, 2007). With the continued growth of the aging population, a different strategy will be required to expand the number of workers and researchers trained in gerontology and geriatrics.

The aging network, defined as the array of agencies that deliver social, health, income support, and long-term care to older people in the United States, has a responsibility to ensure that older people have access to and receive the necessary information and services. Gerontology and geriatrics workforce shortages of today are combined with projections for a more than doubling of the over-65 population in the coming decades. Such projections indicate that the aging network, already limited in resources, will likely need to serve an increasingly greater number of older Americans, making efficiency and effectiveness of services an ever-growing issue of importance. In addition to the funding and quality challenges, the future delivery system for older people faces continued challenges regarding an adequate workforce to deliver the needed assistance.

It is clear that the difficulties faced by both higher education and the aging network in meeting the needs of an aging society are monumental. What is less clear is how the challenges can be addressed through a mutually beneficial and unified strategy. Although there are a number of examples of how higher education and the aging network can work together, these partnerships still appear to be pleasant aberrations rather than standard practice. It is the contention of this chapter that in order for both areas to thrive, such partnerships cannot be thought of as interesting innovations but rather must become part of the educational/practice paradigm in gerontology. The future needs of our aging society are so great that it is simply not possible for the aging network or gerontological higher education to succeed in the absence of such partnerships.


Despite considerable agreement that higher education and the aging network need to work together and evidence that such partnerships have generated important advantages for both sectors, examples of successful partnerships appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Why is this relationship, which seems like such a good idea for both groups, not more commonplace?

A review article by Cyert and Goodman (1997) suggest three major reasons why university/corporate partnerships are difficult to create and maintain. Although aging network providers are not typically the type of corporations referred to in this article, there are similarities that make this comparison applicable to gerontology.

First identified are the differences in organizational cultures, including differences in goals, time, language, and assumptions. For example, most companies operate on relatively short time frames, such as quarters, compared to the university, which tends to operate on a longer and less well-defined time frame. Universities often have difficulty responding to fast turnaround project requests. Also, the language of research is not always the common lexicon for nonuniversity organizations. …

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