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Osher Lifelong Learning Institute receives $1 million endowment

April 18, 2007

Arizona State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute has received its largest-ever gift, a $1 million endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation.

The funding will be used to improve communications across the Institute’s multiple sites, as well as to develop new courses and expand the range of current offerings.

“This is a wonderful development and we continue to be so thankful to the Osher Foundation for its support of our programs,” said Vince Waldron, faculty research director for the Institute. “Thanks to this partnership between ASU and the Bernard Osher Foundation, we have become a national leader in developing creative educational programming for older learners.”

What would eventually become the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at ASU was founded in 2001 as the result of a community-based research project developed by faculty members from the West campus’ communications studies department. The study centered on what new retirees wanted from their communities.

“To our surprise, we found they wanted nothing more than to keep learning,” noted Waldron, a full professor of communications studies in ASU’s College of Human Services. “More specifically, they wanted to discuss important ideas with each other and with university faculty. From that early study, the idea of a lifelong learning institute at ASU was born.”

With its first Osher Foundation grant of $100,000 in March 2004, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute began the development of community-based lifelong learning programs across the metro Phoenix area. Continued funding in 2005 lead to the rapid expansion of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs. From an initial offering of 20 courses to 200 students in Sun City Grand in 2001, the Institute has grown to today’s current inventory of 200 short courses, lectures and workshops attended by over 1,300 older learners across five sites: ASU’s West and Polytechnic campuses, Sun City, Sun City Grand, and Sun City Festival. Additional locations are expected to be added in the near future.

“Now is a very exciting time for 50-plus learners in the Valley,” said Diane Gruber, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and a communications studies faculty member in ASU’s College of Human Services. “The Osher endowment will allow ASU to continue to lead the way in offering university-quality education experiences for those who wish to learn for the sheer pleasure and joy that comes from expanding your knowledge.”

A small sampling of course subjects offered by ASU faculty, faculty emeritus, and community instructors includes “From George to George – The Evolution of the American Presidency,” “Remarkable American Women,” “Biology Behind the Crime Scene,” “Music of the Decades,” “Hollywood’s Great Screwball Comedies,” and “Egyptian Mummies and Curses.” In addition to short courses, lectures and workshops, the Institute’s varied learning formats include field trips and film series.

“With the aging of our population, retirees are gravitating to ASU as they seek new and vital roles after retirement,” said Waldron. “Many are seeking the stimulating and life-altering experiences they missed early in life because of work and family commitments.

“For example, former business executives, engineers and physicians come to our programs seeking courses in the liberal arts. Others are interested in ‘encore careers.’ Some end up serving as teachers, discussion leaders, and members of faculty-led research teams. Still others use our programs as a launching pad to new roles as community leaders.”

The Institute also works in partnership with developers, builders, and residential boards interested in providing enriched living experiences for their community members. Osher Lifelong Learning Institute partners at ASU have included Pulte/Del Webb, DMB, Shea Homes, Sunbelt Holdings, Community Association Management at Sun City Grand, Recreation Centers of Sun City, Inc., and the City of El Mirage.

“The Bernard Osher Foundation is delighted to recognize the accomplishments of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Arizona State University with this endowment gift,” noted Mary Bitterman, Foundation president. “We are pleased to have the ASU program within the growing national network of Osher Institutes – now numbering 115 – and we know that other network participants will learn a great deal from ASU’s experiences. Our congratulations are extended to the university and volunteer leadership for this fine program which will benefit the ever-growing population of seasoned adults in the greater Phoenix area over the years ahead.”


In addition to attending courses, participants have access to ASU student benefits, including use of the libraries, discount offers on a variety of goods and services, and participation in cultural events and learning experiences. Registration for fall courses will begin in September. For more information, registration dates, and course offerings, contact the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at 602-543-6440 or visit to download a program brochure.