BOSTON – In August 2019, the five-campus University of Massachusetts system endorsed the 10 principles of the Age-Friendly University, as defined by Age-Friendly University (AFU) Global Network at Dublin City University, joining an international effort intended to highlight the role of higher education in responding to the challenges and opportunities associated with an aging population.
UMass is the first university system to join the AFU Global Network, earning the designation for its campuses in Amherst, Dartmouth, Lowell and the UMass Medical School in Worcester. UMass Boston endorsed the principles and joined the network in 2017.
“I’m pleased that with the support of all five of our chancellors, UMass has received this designation as an Age-Friendly University,” said President Marty Meehan. “It reaffirms our long-held commitment to making a world-class public research university education accessible to all people in the Commonwealth, regardless of age.”
The AFU Network defines an age-friendly university as one that encourages older adults to participate in educational and research programs, while fostering intergenerational learning as a sharing of expertise among learners of all ages. Additionally, the AFU’s 10 governing principles emphasize how universities can inform their research agendas by considering the needs of an aging society and promoting public discourse on how higher education can respond to older adults’ needs and interests. The principles provide a valuable guiding framework to distinguish and evaluate age-friendly programs and policies, as well as identify institutional gaps and opportunities for growth.
“We want to continue to provide opportunities for intergenerational contact that will benefit all members of our campuses and surrounding communities,” said President Meehan. “Our campuses have already made significant commitments to education and research in the field of gerontology, and the AFU designation will only serve to continue this work.”
An age-friendly campus promotes development for older adults by supporting those who wish to pursue second careers and creating additional paths to participation through an emphasis on online learning. It also encourages healthy aging by giving older adults access to wellness programs and cultural events, providing opportunities for communication with retired members of the community, and ensuring regular dialogue with organizations that represent the interests of aging individuals.
With the new designation, UMass plans to document the range of age-friendly practices already in place. This fall, UMass Boston Professor of Gerontology Nina Silverstein, UMass Amherst Professor Emerita Susan Whitbourne, and UMass Boston Professor of English Lauren Bowen will conduct a system-wide survey to test the feasibility of obtaining institutional data and measure the perceptions of campus climate relevant to the age-friendly principles. The survey will be the first-of-its-kind for UMass and will make possible opportunities for other universities in the AFU network to conduct their own institutional research.
The AFU movement is part of a larger age-friendly initiative stimulated by the United Nations Global Sustainability Development movement as a means of promoting active and healthy aging throughout the world. Massachusetts was the second state to join the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities in 2018, and Boston has developed its own Age-Friendly Action Plan.