Mahatma Gandhi once suggested, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of adults consider themselves lifelong learners. Whether studying on their own or enrolling in classes and courses organized by educational institutions, most Americans seek to improve their knowledge and skills.
Despite the rise in popularity of online learning, the Pew findings also suggest that most lifelong learners prefer in-person opportunities over virtual ones.
Local lifelong learners have options for pursuing advanced knowledge in a variety of topics. They can explore a new hobby or take classes to enrich their understanding of a particular subject. With so many possibilities available, it can be difficult to choose.
Butler County Community College (BC3) has offered a Lifelong Learning program for 30 years. Paul Lucas, the Lifelong Learning director, said that the program was part of BC3’s strategic planning that included the goal of expanding learning to all.
“It’s another great way to serve the community,” Lucas said. “It provides learning for people who can investigate hobbies without putting a lot of money out front. They can try kayaking and skiing and woodworking with us before they put a lot of money into equipment.”
Others who enroll in the Lifelong Learning program at BC3 use the courses for professional development. Some of the professional development classes include an EMT certificate program and an email marketing masterclass. Enrollees also can pick up a variety of computer and technology skills through the program.
Lucas said BC3 offers between 160 and 200 classes each session. The offerings span across the BC3 campus locations, with some other local sites hosting, depending on the course topic. “Culinary is one of the most popular programs on our main campus,” said Lucas. “It fills up fast.”
All classes in BC3’s Lifelong Learning program are available to adults age 18 and older. Classes are not restricted to Butler County residents and there are no extra fees for participants who live outside the county. Of the current enrollment, Lucas said roughly 60 percent are of the Baby Boomer generation.
Course length varies, said Lucas, and pricing is set to cover the cost of instructors and materials only. “It’s not a money-making venture for BC3,” he said. “Any money over what is used to cover the costs of a course is applied to the costs of creating new programs or additional classes in popular subjects. Everything we make goes back into improving the program.”
Courses are chosen based on current trends and feedback from participants. BC3 also polls its program instructors to ask if they have any suggestions. “Our instructors really are the strength of our program,” Lucas said. “Some of them have multiple talents and can offer new courses.”
Some of the new classes coming in 2023 at BC3’s Lifelong Learning program include:
A ‘Singles Mingle’ cooking project.
An American Sign Language (ASL) Level 3 course.
A royal icing cookie class.
A “Writing for Dollars” course.
You can find a complete listing of available classes at https://www.bc3.edu/programs-classes/lifelong-learning.html. Lucas said he recommends registering early to ensure that you get a spot because the popular ones fill up quickly. Participants can register online or by calling 724-287-8711, Ext. 8504.
“I love this program because it offers a variety of learning and social opportunities,” said Lucas. “You come to learn a skill or hobby, but you also get to meet other people interested in the same things so you can build relationships.”
BC3 isn’t the only local educational institution appealing to lifelong learners. La Roche University in Pittsburgh made its Lifelong Learning program official in June 2021. Jennifer Engel, executive director, said the program had been in the works for several years before making its debut.
The first set of classes launched in January 2022 with a five-week-long winter session. “We offered 12 courses for the first five weeks and had 55 members, who could take up to 12 classes,” Engel explained.
Now, members can choose from up to 25 classes, with new sessions starting every five weeks.
Unlike BC3’s fee-based program, La Roche’s payment structure for its lifelong learning program follows a membership model. The membership-based program is open to students aged 50 and up who want to stay engaged mentally, socially, physically and spiritually. “They can take as many classes as they like and have the option to audit an undergraduate class if they desire,” said Engel.
Their memberships also earn them discounts in the dining hall and bookstore. Members also are invited to attend many of the academic, athletic and other special events held on campus. Some classes include field trips.
A basic membership costs $200 annually and includes all classes and most fitness programs. La Roche’s Plus Membership costs $300 and gives members access to all classes, all fitness classes, and the indoor walking track and swimming pool.
Engel said that they try to keep the materials needed for classes to a minimum to make it more affordable for members. “Literature courses usually require a book purchase or borrowing from the library to read and discuss. Specialized art classes may charge an extra fee for materials. For the most part, if there are handouts or copies, we’ll provide those,” she said.
Most of the instructors for the program at La Roche are professors and staff members. “It’s a benefit for our members because they have a rich pool of knowledge to pull from,” said Engel. “Some of our members also can teach if they have an area of expertise and want to share their knowledge.”
The most popular courses in the program are those that many people wished they had taken in college but were too busy fulfilling their major requirements. Political science, the social sciences, and the arts are among their most popular offerings.
“Our health and fitness activities are incredibly popular,” said Engel. “Our fitness instructors accommodate and adjust based on who they have in class. They’re really good at differentiating depending on age and fitness level.”
Some of the new classes coming out this spring include:
A celebration of African American authors for Black History Month.
The economics of migration.
How does Alexa work? The technology behind the device.
Functional fitness and water aerobics.
A trip to Gettysburg and Antietam National Battlefield is planned for May (at an additional cost). Members can also participate in a study abroad experience with other La Roche students for an additional fee. A members-only study abroad experience to Italy is also planned for October 2023.
“La Roche is incredibly supportive of the program,” said Engel. “It’s been very much integrated into the culture and community here.”
Visit https://www.laroche.edu/CLL/ to learn more about the lifelong learning program or to enroll.