Communities of Lifelong Learning: Housing Projects for Older Adults Spring Up on College Campuses

By Lefevere, Patricia | National Catholic Reporter, November 3, 2006 | Go to article overview

Communities of Lifelong Learning: Housing Projects for Older Adults Spring Up on College Campuses


Lefevere, Patricia, National Catholic Reporter


What college-bound freshman has not heard a parent, teacher or school counselor intone: "Your college years are the best of your life." Even if not all students believe it, all soon realize the so-called choicest years are quickly over.

But perhaps not forever.

Lifelong learning with all the amenities of college living is an idea whose time has come. The chance for the older generation to take courses, attend campus cultural and athletic events, access the university library, and use the fitness center and dining halls is growing around the nation.

In survey after survey a majority of middle-aged adults say they want to do more than play golf and sit in rocking chairs when they leave the workplace. They expect later life to offer time for stimulation and personal growth through acquiring more education and becoming engaged in the community.

Communities of older adults have sprung up on or adjacent to campuses on both coasts over the past 10 years. Stanford University in California, Ithaca College in upstate New York, Dartmouth University in New Hampshire, La Salle University in Philadelphia, Davidson College in North Carolina and the University of North Carolina in Ashville all feature such facilities.

More recently the trend has spread to the Midwest. Oberlin College in Ohio, the University of Michigan, Iowa State University, St. Olaf College and Carlton College, both in Northfield, Minn., and St. Mary's University in Winona have all launched housing projects for older adults on or near their hallowed halls.

University Village, a planned community of 28 detached homes, each with its own lot, and eight condominium cottages constructed around a central green, is attracting new residents to St. Mary's and to Winona, a town of 27,000 people in southeast Minnesota.

The village of one-, two- and three-bedroom units sits adjacent to the main entrance of the 94-year-old Catholic university run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers.

Elmer and Louise Mattila moved to University Village last year after first returning to the family homestead in northern Minnesota. Although the farm had been in Elmer's family for three generations, its upkeep and the lack of educational opportunities in the town of Grand Rapids left the couple craving more culture, less manual labor, and less commuting between town and farm.

Within weeks of arriving in Winona, Elmer, a retired mathematics and computer science teacher at Minneapolis Community College, joined the university concert band. Besides rehearsing twice a week and performing in three concerts, he jammed with students while auditing a jazz combo class during the spring semester. In turn students got to hear the big band style of "an adequate saxophonist," Mattila said.

He said he hopes to take other music courses, but is now too busy teaching at a local senior center and giving private harmonica lessons to three students--ages 60 to 76--at his home.

Louise Mattila is still unpacking boxes. She has yet to decorate the walls of the couple's three-bedroom house. Instead she has enjoyed plays, concerts and art shows at the university and is currently participating in three area book clubs and volunteering.

"The best thing about living here is our affiliation with St. Mary's," Louise said. The retired chemistry and biology professor believes many opportunities await those who come to University Village, but they are not yet developed. "Dialogue with university officials is still in progress," she said.

In the view of St. Mary's president, Br. Craig Franz, having older adults on campus--many of them well traveled career professionals--can only enhance the diversity of the institution. "It's good for our undergraduates to have older students in class," he told NCR. "It helps students stretch when they can hear different perspectives."

Franz said he believes the university can "provide some energy for older students" keeping them connected with the younger generation and with seasoned teaching professionals. …

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