Back to College

I generally avoid reading the AARP magazine–which I guess is the successor to Modern Maturity. As Tom Paxton wrote:

So when you find it in your mailbox for the first time my friend
You can tell that you getting older, you’re turning grey….
Modern Maturity, means you’re getting old
When you get the magazine that you hide from your friends
Once it was Rolling Stone, it was thrill after thrill
Now Modern Maturity means over the hill.

This issue has a piece by Harvard professor and author Rosabeth Moss Kanter about the future of “even higher education”. She’s proposing a future in much which experienced, affluent 50 and 60 somethings will be returning to campus for “Advanced Leadership School” before heading off on the next phase of their careers in providing distinguished public service.

Someday soon, going to a university at 50 or 60 could become the norm. Someday, every major graduate school will have graduate schools designed specifically for accomplished professionals who want to make the transition from their primary income-earning careers to their years of flexible service.

Kanter stresses that this is different than the traditional retirement activity of taking a few courses for diversion. These new programs and the students who populate them are emulating a new model that has been set by the likes of Jimmy Carter, Lee Iacocca or Bill Gates who have the experience and the energy to “support new forms of philanthropy and public service that truly solve problems”. They don’t want to volunteer in the traditional sense; they want to change the world.

Colleges and universities can be a key role in helping adults make this transition.

But for all the talk about what older boomers want to contribute, there are practically no ways to help them do it. How do they gain the knowledge and refresh their skills so they can end childhood hunger or save Newark? How do they use their considerable experience if they never earned a degree the first time around? When and where do they make the right connections?

There will have to be some changes made to made…

Of course, the educational model should feel right to accomplished adults, tailored to their life stage and experience. It shouldn’t resemble the lecture halls, know-it-all professors, and musty textbooks of college memories.

The the resulting programs would look much different than the current activities on our campuses, according to Professor Kanter:

Sessions would be more like think tanks, in which faculty facilitate discussions about how to tackle major social needs. Participants could use the university as their sandbox, catching up on recent developments in their fields, and adding a language or a science skill. Their “dorms” would be two-bedroom apartments, with their spouses or partners as not just roommates but coparticipants in the program. Participants would be more like contributors than students, mentoring undergraduates or leading seminars for grad students. The presence of accomplished leaders could change universities in positive ways. And by focusing on the world’s most daunting human problems, leaders will find direction for their next productive decades.

I guess I still wonder why we have to retain that kind of school for the 50-somethings. Sounds like our current students could benefit from much of what is proposed in this new world of “even higher education.”