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Project Title:Learning in Retirement ProgramInstitution Name:University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Innovation Category:Civic Engagement Project Director:Mona Christensen, Director, Outreach and Adult Access, and LIR AdvisorContact Information:(920) 465-2267, christem@uwgb.eduWebsite:https://www.uwgb.edu/lir
Project Description:

UW-Green Bay’s Learning in Retirement (LIR) program offers more than 230 non-credit courses annually to serve its current membership of 1,050 community retirees. The program is sponsored by the university but is administered by committees of community volunteers, with all courses taught by volunteers.  The courses cover a wide range of subjects, are selected to meet the needs and interests of  the members, and are offered in a variety of formats, including single-session lecture-hall presentations, multiple-week discussion classes, small-group seminars, and day-long field trips. Annual membership dues of $100 include on-campus parking and permit members to register for as many courses as they choose to take.  The program is intended for anyone who is retired or semi-retired with an interest in learning; there is no specific age requirement.  The program has been in existence for over 20 years and its large size—significantly larger than most LIR programs in the nation—is noteworthy because it has never actively advertised or solicited for new members; and unlike most large LIR programs, it is based not in a balmy densely-populated retirement haven but in a relatively small northern city famous mainly for its football team and its “frozen tundra” climate.  

The LIR program’s continued growth and success is attributed to: (a) an extensive cadre of volunteers who serve as course presenters, course coordinators, committee members, Board members and office workers and (b) the strong support of the University, which sponsors it as an official “University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Institute for Learning in Retirement” program as part of its Division of Outreach and Adult Access, assigns a Director in that unit as Advisor to the program, provides the program with free office space, free use of two 50-seat classrooms, free Media Services assistance for those classrooms, campus parking permits to LIR members at a greatly reduced rate, and liability coverage for all on-campus LIR activities and any same-day LIR field trips.  The LIR office is staffed by one full-time person whose salary is covered by LIR membership dues, which are also used to pay for off-campus classroom rental, off-campus media equipment, publication of the catalogs and newsletters, and other costs associated with course offerings.  The program has always been financially self-sustaining and the dues are annually adjusted to assure a prudent carryover balance each year.  The program also has a modest endowment fund, intended eventually to be used for special projects and for scholarships.

Objectives:

  • Intellectual Stimulation: To offer retirees in the greater Green Bay area a variety of non-credit courses and other educational opportunities that are taught or facilitated by peers, community members, campus faculty and staff, and other knowledgeable volunteer presenters.  Evaluated by number and variety of course offerings each semester. 
  • Life-long Learning: To encourage older community members to continue to develop their knowledge and skills and to broaden their interests.  Evaluated by number of members joining LIR and/or renewing their memberships and by course attendance.
  • Social Interaction: To offer opportunities for retirees to interact with their peers in a friendly, supportive community both in and out of the classroom.  Evaluated by course attendance and attendance at LIR social events.
  • “Communiversity”: To support and strengthen UW-Green Bay’s efforts to more closely link the University to the community.  Evaluated by number of members attending LIR activities on campus.

 

Outcomes:
  • Number and retention of members: In its 20 year history, membership has increased each year, from about 70 in 1992 to 1,050 in 2012.  Retention of enrolled members has remained stable at about the 80% level.
  • Satisfaction with courses:  Members fill out an evaluation form at the end of each course. The results are reviewed by the Curriculum Committee and are forwarded to the course presenter.  Participants express a high level of satisfaction with almost all courses, and almost all presenters are encouraged to offer a new or repeat course in a future semester.  The few presenters who receive low evaluations are counseled to improve their courses and/or are not invited back.
Challenges/Problems Encountered:Because of the steady increase in the number of members, the major challenge has been to provide enough course offerings and/or enough classroom seating to decrease the number of registrants on wait lists.  The challenge was significantly alleviated by renting classrooms off-campus and by the University’s development of an ingenious lottery registration system designed to assure that all members get into at least some of their high-priority courses.
Evaluation Approach:Five standing committees (Curriculum, Finance, Volunteer Development, Communications, and Social) continually monitor their respective effectiveness in meeting their objectives and report to the Board of Directors, whom along with University administrative representatives, have oversight of the program.
Potential for Replication:The distinctly unique size of this program (1,050 members and 200+ courses annually in a relatively small community) is directly related to the strong support of the program by the University, which provides dedicated classroom and office space, media services support, website development, technical support (including an on-line registration system), reduced campus parking fees for members, and a hands-on administrative advisor/liaison who plays an active role in the success of the organization.
Additional Resources:The UW-Green Bay LIR is affiliated with the Elderhostel Institute Network (EIN), a voluntary association of Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs), funded by Elderhostel Inc., a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities for older adults.  EIN sponsors a newsletter, program ideas and other help to LIR programs through its website: http://www.roadscholar.org/ein/intro.asp 
CEO-to-CEO Contact:Thomas K. Harden , Chancellorhardent@uwgb.edu
(920) 465-2207
Date Published: Tuesday, July 24, 2012