Colleges ‘must be more age concious’

Barbara Vacarr: Need to rethink approach.

Colleges are heading down the path to extinction unless they become more age conscious, one of the world’s leading experts on older people claims.

Higher education has yet to focus on this change — including the huge increase in potential students in their 50s and beyond.

Barbara Vacarr, recently named as one of the US’s 2015 Influencers in Aging, said this is really worrying more than in any other sector, “higher education will need to rethink itself as the population ages or else they will become extinct”.

Ms Vacarr, who is spear heading a campaign to get colleges and universities to better serve students in midlife or older, recently addressed a two-day conference at Dublin City University, the first Irish third-level institution to adopt the concept and principles of an age-friendly university.

“A recent report from the American Chronicle Research Services sounded the alarm, warning that the vast majority of traditional colleges and universities were heading down the path to extinction unless they shifted their thinking about age.

“The adult-education market is the fastest-growing one in higher education for the foreseeable future.

“Higher education as a whole has yet to focus on this seismic change — including the massive increase in potential students in their 50s and beyond.

“By 2030, 112m Americans alone will be over 55, up from some 76m today. In less than 20 years, the country’s demographics will undergo massive shifts. Today, one in 10 Americans is older than 65; in 25 years, more than one in four will be over 65.”

Ms Vacarr said at a time when traditional retirement increasingly marks the beginning of a new phase of work whether by choice, necessity, or some combination of the two, millions of people will need help if they are to make education even more important.

“Like students of traditional college age, older people will need help navigating what is fast being recognised as one of life’s major transitions, akin to adolescence in its significance.”

In collaboration with Arizona State and Strathclyde universities, DCU hosted the first international age-friendly universities conference over the next two days.

The conference was promoting and developing the concept of the age friendly university.


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