By Taryn Hojlo
The first audit of the UMass Boston age-friendly university initiative shows the campus is making progress embracing its pledge to become more inviting to older students, staff, faculty and other members of the community. The audit, led by gerontology professor Nina Silverstein, reviewed the university’s age-friendly strengths as well as areas in need of additional attention. The volunteer research team included representatives from across campus departments and constituencies.
“Beyond simply endorsing principles, we needed to understand what age-friendliness means for our campus and what steps need to be taken to achieve it,” said Silverstein. “The audit is a step in the right direction.”
After being endorsed nationally by the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE), the initiative was adopted last June, making Boston the first campus to endorse the principles of age-friendliness in the UMass network. Each age-friendly university must take steps to comply with the ten principles aimed at making campus life more inclusive to older adults.
These include measures to encourage older adults to participate in campus activities and services, providing resources for “second career” development, and the promotion of online and intergenerational learning. The initiative also encourages universities to offer extended access to campus amenities and networking opportunities to their own retired faculty members.
To assess the school’s compliance with each of the principles, auditors interviewed stakeholders throughout the university and asked how well they believed UMass Boston performed in educational programming, accessibility, and inclusivity.
Overall, stakeholders believed that older adults were given the same educational opportunities as their younger counterparts. However, many pointed out that students sometimes had limited understanding of digital resources. A suggested improvement was the offering a technology class, so students could learn how to use the equipment necessary for coursework. Additionally, physical accessibility around campus was stated as an issue, with limited signs indicating handicap access.
Although UMass Boston has been a beacon to older students since its establishment, enrollment of students aged fifty and older has decreased significantly in recent years. Auditors recommended strengthening the university’s active recruitment strategies for this student population.
The interviews also revealed that many stakeholders mistakenly assumed that the university had already been considered age-friendly because of the presence of the Gerontology Institute and the programs offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
“A good outcome from the process of conducting the audit was opening the door for conversations about age-friendliness and how that might be accomplished,” Silverstein said.