Whether you’re retiring with millions in the bank or stuck in midlife and desperate for a career leap, maybe there’s a college program for you soon. The latest offerings to hit the market are a testament to the diversity that is likely to emerge as educational institutions begin to respond to aging societies and the future of work.
The notion that at 18 you can get all the education you need up front in a four-year package should quickly fade as careers stretch into the six-decade mark and retirement ages continue to drift upwards. There are now 12 programs on offer and the last two to be launched in the US this year are the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado Denver. (I’ll look at programs starting in Europe next).
The Gold Standard (and price)
One is a state-of-the-art, meticulously designed year designed by the Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago, founded in 1890. It is aimed at accomplished executives with decades of top-level experience in a variety of sectors and its name betrays its mission: Leadership & Societal Initiative (LSI). How to unleash the energies, networks and experiences of world leaders to the challenges of the world. It follows closely behind the previous Harvard and Stanford programs – and is positioned somewhere in between. Harvard’s ALI program has a strong focus on social impact projects, while Stanford’s DCI is more focused on a holistic midlife transition experience. Chicago wants to do everything.
Its advisory board is full of graduates from Harvard and Stanford programs. It listened carefully to what they had to say and balances its offering on three pillars: Know Yourself (complete with trainers and a designated faculty advisor), Understand the World (with access to the university’s full curriculum and research facilities), Stell envision the future (courses aimed at helping participants seize opportunities at the interface – where your skills meet the needs of the world).
Or, to quote David Axelrod, director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago: “What you have here is the combination of great scholarship… [and] Focus on real problems. If you’re thinking about what your next step is…this is a wonderful place to come…You’ll be intellectually stimulated in ways you can’t even imagine… [and learn] how to deal with some of the most pressing issues of our time.”
To prepare for the launch, Chicago hosted an intellectually charged three-day inaugural symposium celebration. They invited 100 potential program participants to get a taste of the program. Intoxicating stuff. The university’s top faculty participated with presentations ranging from “How to Save a Constitutional Democracy” to “Liberal Arts as Premise for Understanding Societal Change”. Presentations by famous alumni ranged from Anne Mulcahy (former CEO of Xerox) to Valerie Jarrett (CEO, Obama Foundation) to David Brooks (NYT Opinion Writer).
A sold-out crowd jostled for their program’s invitation to “Make Your Next Chapter Matter” during this introductory focus group discussion. The three-day symposium ended with University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos enthusiastically supporting the creation of a midlife transition movement as a great opportunity for the school. “A reputation for being more engaged,” he observed, “starts with asking the right questions. Having people on a life journey to explore the next stage of life with us is the next level of a ‘tested life’.”
Applications to LSI are open until January 6thth2023 to begin the following September with a 9 month program through June.
An affordable, age-friendly alternative
The other new program comes from the public urban research university CU Denver. Its goal is affordable access to an inspiring midlife transition course that integrates passion and purpose into the next phase of life. While Chicago’s participants will come from all over the world, the University of Colorado Denver is focused on the needs of its own local community.
Colorado has one of the fastest growing 60+ populations in America. By 2023, the over-60s will outnumber the under-18s for the first time in history. This is obviously becoming a pressing concern for the country’s universities. CU Denver, itself 50 years old, doubles down on longevity — and responsibility.
The chancellor of the university, Michelle Marks, is strategically designing the move. She wants CU Denver to become a “university for life” that provides access to excellent education at every stage of life and career—from 17 to 117. The new designation “Age-Friendly University” reinforces CU Denver’s commitment to the role of Higher Education in Supporting Longer and Healthier Life, first laid out in its 2030 Strategic Plan. “As people live longer and change careers more frequently, the work of the future will require updating skills and education throughout a person’s career, no longer (just) at the front end.”
CU Denver, located in the heart of downtown, has a very diverse student population. Over half are first-generation Americans and over half are non-white. They tend to be older adults with families rather than the fresh-faced youth who are more familiar with the traditional college campus. CU Denver’s midlife transition program is also non-traditional in many ways, requiring neither the type of fees required by the Chicago/Harvard/Stanford options (over $50,000) nor the one-year, full-time commitment they require . Program director Anne Button designs something lighter – and cheaper. An accessible option to get people thinking—even while many are still working—on how to plan and navigate their next chapters.
The CU Denver program, called Change Makers, lasts four months, or a single semester, and costs $3200. It will focus on two evenings per week – some in person, some remote. Tuesday’s sessions will focus on mid-life transition skills and reflections, while Wednesday’s perspectives seminar series will feature local leaders, faculty and change agents, exploring a range of key opportunities including social entrepreneurship, gig work and an intergenerational workforce will. Participants have access to classes and events across campus. At the end, they have the opportunity to do an internship at local organizations.
Applications for the start in January 2023 are now possible.
Both programs are perfectly tailored to the reputation, culture and characteristics of their respective universities. Both are anchored in the cohort-accompanied theories of midlife change in the community. Both aim to prepare adults for productive and purposeful aging. Both build on a balance between introspection and understanding one’s strengths and motivations in this 3rdapprox Quarter of life, with an exploration of the world and its needs.
These core foundations are likely to be at the heart of the programs that will hopefully soon be offered at universities around the world – at any price point and for any type of community. They are the elements that distinguish these offerings from the now widespread ‘adult’ education that focuses on enriching or updating skills. Transitions driven by peers, rooted in self-motivation and worldly. They are needed – everywhere. Tomorrow’s students are waiting.