Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Marco Verch.

Along with an aging demographic comes meaningful new opportunities for inclusion. This is an idea that is being embraced by some Canadian universities who have set out to ensure that older students feel welcome and supported.

Whether it’s post-retirement or once the kids have grown up and ventured out on their own, enrolling in a program can be a satisfying endeavour that can ignite a new passion or strengthen an existing one. And universities are keen to add older students into the mix. They have invaluable life experience to share with other students and vice versa.

Older learners are welcome into classrooms for their enthusiasm and ability to share life experience with other students. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Newman University.

Instructors love having them in their classes because they tend to ask questions and are highly engaged, according to Christine O’Kelley from Dublin University, who is co-ordinator of the Age-Friendly University Global Network, with more than a dozen members worldwide. Dublin has lead the way with an initiative launched in 2012

What does it mean to be an age-friendly university? A story in McGill University’s School of Continuing Studies newsletter, The Next Page, described it this way: “A defining feature of age-friendly universities is the implementation of holistic strategies that include and actively engage older learners at the community and university level, rather focusing on tailored programs.” It also means integration throughout the student population with older learners being helped by student volunteers who teach free computer classes – something that happens at Dublin U.

In August 2018, Ryerson University became part of a global network of age-friendly universities. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Tom Flemming.

In August 2018, Toronto’s Ryerson University became the latest  – the first in Toronto and the largest in Canada – to join the global network of age-friendly educational institutions. “With a commitment to the endorsement of the 10 principles of age-friendly universities, Ryerson will continue to lead in the development of courses, programming and environments that support and meet the needs of older adults in our community,” said Ryerson University president and vice-chancellor Mohamed Lachemi.

Those principles include: encouraging the participation of older adults in all the core activities of the university, including educational and research programs; promoting personal and career development in the second half of life and to support those who wish to pursue second careers; and widening access to online educational opportunities for older adults to ensure a diversity of routes to participation.

“Ryerson will continue to lead in the development of courses, programming and environments that support and meet the needs of older adults in our community.”

The university has taken several steps towards integrating older learners into its programming and course offerings. It offers non-credit courses to support the learning, enrichment and self-actualization of older learners through G. Raymond Chang School for Continuing Education. Ryerson has launched new graduate degree programs in gerontology and health administration for community care. Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management is also home to the National Institute on Ageing (NIA), Canada’s first policy research institute dedicated exclusively to considering ageing from both a health and financial perspective.

If you’ve been pondering going back to school, this is the time. Older students are making the grade and being welcomed into the mix.