VIU ElderCollege offers about 90 courses a semester, but they will come to an abrupt end on Dec. 31.
“I was stunned, it’s a major part of my life,” said Anne Brailsford.
Brailsford has been a student at Vancouver Island University’s ElderCollege for 10 years, and an instructor for nine. She says she’s shocked that VIU is now announcing the end of support for the program, considering the university just congratulated it on 30 years of success last month.
She says it’s been a critical part of her life.
“You know, there’s a perception that older people sit at home and veg by the fire,” Brailsford said. “Well we need to connect cognitively and we need to be learners and I’m still curious about my world.”
And so are many others. VIU’s ElderCollege has over 3,000 students and teachers and offers about 90 courses a semester.
“All the way from archaeology, sciences, astronomy, the arts, how to write, how to listen to poetry, how to listen to and enjoy music,” said ElderCollege board chair Ross Peterson.
But it’s all coming to an end.
VIU told ElderCollege participants in a letter Wednesday, “considering the university’s current financial position, we are required to examine all aspects of our operations for efficiency, including lifelong learning offerings and continuing education programs. Consequently, we have made the very difficult decision to suspend our support for ElderCollege activities beyond December 31, 2023.”
In a statement to CHEK News, VIU said: “Like many other post-secondary institutions, VIU is in a deficit situation due to enrolments not having returned to pre-pandemic levels. Record inflation has also negatively impacted our financial situation.”
Peterson said his email box was full of dismayed responses Thursday when he sent out an email describing what VIU had done.
“We’re learning today people are very upset with the decision,” he said.
VIU isn’t saying what the savings are by cutting ElderCollege, but Peterson says the teachers are volunteers and students pay for courses.
VIU does provide three part-time staff members and some classroom space, but many of the courses are on Zoom.
“I urge people not to be totally dismayed over this news,” Peterson added. “It’s unfortunate news, but we’ll find a way to get around it and reemerge maybe as a better model, we don’t know.”
A VIU spokesperson also stated: “After 30 successful years, VIU is suspending its support of ElderCollege as we evaluate how to best provide continuing education that meets the diverse needs of our communities, including seniors. VIU will be suspending administrative and infrastructure support to the program as of December 31, 2023.”
“As you can appreciate, much has changed in 30 years, and VIU is examining all models and best practices for delivering delivering lifelong learning through continuing education programs. VIU is incredibly grateful for the dedication and commitment of ElderCollege participants and the ElderCollege Board and instructors, who have generously volunteered their time and expertise over three decades.”
“We understand that this is disappointing news for some ElderCollege participants, but we look forward to sharing more information about our continuing education offerings in the coming months.”