The University of Colorado Denver, the most racially and ethnically diverse research university in Colorado, is adding another dimension to how it defines diversity, equity, and inclusion: age.
CU Denver was recently named a member of the Age-Friendly University Global Network, an innovative global education movement that supports intergenerational opportunities and focuses on the challenges and opportunities presented by the aging population.
CU Denver is the third university in Colorado to obtain Age-Friendly University status (CU Anschutz did so earlier this year). The university is also a federally designated minority-serving institution.
Planning for an aging population
Colorado has one of the nation’s fastest-growing populations of older adults. The state demography office projects that in 2023—just next year—Coloradans aged 60 and older will outnumber those aged 18 and younger for the first time in the state’s history.
“Our new Age-Friendly University designation affirms CU Denver’s commitment to the important role of higher education in supporting longer, healthier lifespans,” said Chancellor Michelle Marks, adding that the university first spelled out its commitment to older adults in its 2030 Strategic Plan.
The plan, completed last summer, states: “As people are living longer and switching careers more often, the work of the future will require updating skills and education throughout a person’s career, no longer (solely) on the front end.” The plan sets a topline goal to become a university for life, providing access to educational excellence at every stage of life and career—from 17 to 117.
“As we implement our strategic plan, age is one of the many factors we’ll be addressing – particularly because ‘university for life’ is about making sure we reflect the changing and elongated demographics of having five generations together in the workplace and at our university,” said Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Antonio Farias.
The Age-Friendly University network consists of 95 institutions of higher education around the globe that have committed to becoming more age-friendly in their programs and policies and have endorsed 10 Age-Friendly University principles. “The University of Colorado Denver’s commitment to ageing…brings additional strength to the network,” wrote AFU President Dáire Keogh in CU Denver’s acceptance letter. “This is a rapidly growing network with a shared challenge to promote an inclusive approach to healthy and active ageing through research, enhanced learning opportunities for people across generations, and innovations that address specific issues affecting older adults.”
Becoming more age-friendly
CU Denver faculty are actively engaged in aging-related research and programming. CU Denver sociologists have conducted research on areas ranging from health inequities among older adults to how giving up driving affects older adults’ engagement and characteristics of grandparents who raise their grandchildren. The university’s Center for Inclusive Design and Engineering runs a program to support older adults in learning and using technology to reduce social isolation and loneliness. The university’s Lifelong Learners program, which offers people 60+ the opportunity to audit classes for free, has been in existence since the 1980s.
The university’s digital strategy task force noted in March, “Many older Coloradans want, or need, to remain engaged in the workforce, and the majority are interested in changing careers or industries. To meet the needs of this growing population, we will develop programming for older adults in career transition and to help them prepare for their next stage.” One program set to launch in January 2023 is Change Makers, which brings experienced professionals who are approaching or already in retirement back to college for a semester to explore possibilities, retool, and renew their purpose.
CU Denver will form a steering committee in the coming months to assess the age-friendliness of its campus. Beyond programming for older students, the university intends to ensure that its policies and practices reinforce the value of intergenerational collaboration among its employees, of whom 30 percent are over the age of 50.
“Membership in the Age-Friendly University network will enable us to benefit from the experiences of other universities in evaluating how to shape CU Denver’s age-friendly programs and practices, as well as how to identify gaps and opportunities for us to grow,” said Chancellor Marks.