This year, the college celebrated its 20–year partnership with Longview, a senior living community across the street from the college. The program allows Longview residents to take classes at the college and encourages students at the college to participate in hands-on learning experiences at the senior living community.
It is estimated that across the country, hundreds of collegiate institutions are working to build relationships with senior citizens. Throughout the last several years, opportunities for senior citizens to pursue higher education have significantly grown. Many U.S. colleges and universities have begun offering reduced or free college tuition for seniors returning to the classroom, and programs that connect college students with elders have gained popularity.
The college’s relationship with the senior living community not only promotes the importance of lifelong education but it is also a primary example of how higher education can use its resources and influence to initiate positive, intergenerational human connection.
As people grow older, they are often more likely to experience a sense of loneliness and isolation. This can happen for a number of reasons, including the difficult switch from independent to assisted living, the physical challenges of aging and a feeling of being cut off from family and friends.
Additionally, popular culture in the U.S. often wrongly deems older people dependent and undesirable despite their knowledge and life experience. This can further influence feelings of alienation, as these individuals are often excluded from everyday society.
Human beings are social creatures, and loneliness of this kind is proven to influence health conditions including depression, cognitive decline and heart disease. Senior education programs help seniors combat feelings of loneliness, isolation and alienation by providing a sense of purpose and the opportunity to build new, healthy and dynamic relationships with people across generational lines. The benefits of these programs do not just extend to older people — they reach younger college students as well. By establishing intergenerational classroom relationships, these programs provide unique opportunities for students of all ages to learn from those who likely grew up with very different experiences than their own. This, in turn, helps to build compassion. As the world increasingly grows clouded by divisiveness and exclusion, intergenerational empathy is more important than ever — and it has the capacity to influence a more inclusive, understanding world.