FAU's Lifelong Learning program is one for the books

Florida Atlantic University's lifelong education program, already the largest of its kind in the country, keeps growing, with enrollment climbing more than 20 percent in four years.

The Lifelong Learning Society has about 16,000 paid members between its two locations in Boca Raton and Jupiter, mostly seniors who want to learn for the sake of learning. Thousands more attend occasional lectures on politics, religion, world affairs, the arts, and this year, sports.

The enormous growth of FAU's program, which started in the early 1980s, has attracted attention around the country.

"We all look at FAU and go, 'Holy cow,'" said Kali Lightfoot, executive director of the Osher Lifelong Institute Resource Center, which supports 117 programs in the country.


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FAU is not a member of the Osher network, whose largest program is the University of Delaware, at about 3,000 students.

One obvious reason for FAU's popularity is the demographics of South Florida, which has one of the largest and most active senior communities in the United States. Buses from retirement communities drop off their residents to attend the classes.

Some students take one or two classes a year, while others, including Boca Raton resident Phyllis Novetsky, take more than 50.

"The subject matter is far different than I would imagine, and the quality is top notch," said Novetsky, 80, who recently relocated from Michigan. "It's a lot better way for me to spend my retirement than going to the casino."

Novetsky has plenty of company.

"We have people who register for thousands of dollars' worth of programs," said Herbert Shapiro, assistant provost for lifelong learning at FAU. "They're here all the time."

In Broward County, Nova Southeastern University offers a much smaller lifelong learning program, but it, too, is growing, from about 110 members in 2007 to more than 225 this year, program director Linda Maurice said.

FAU's Jupiter program has pretty much taken over that campus. While the regular student population in Jupiter is about 900, half what it was a decade ago, the Lifelong Learning population has more than tripled during that time, with about 7,000 members now.

In Boca Raton, more than 700 people signed up for an eight-week series on Islam taught by Robert Rabil, an associate professor of political science. That's 200 more than could fit in the program's Barry and Florence Friedberg Lifelong Learning Auditorium. So a second class was added.

The 108-page catalog for the Boca Raton campus includes classes on weighty subjects such as terrorism, United States and Israeli relations, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, as well as more lighthearted fare, such as the music of Rogers and Hammerstein and the life of television pioneer Sid Caesar.

And new this year, both programs will offer multi-week sessions on sports. A four-week series titled "First Pitch to Sliding Home: A Beginner's Guide to Baseball History" starts Feb. 7 in Boca Raton. In Jupiter, a four-week series called "Sports in Society," presented by retired New York Times sportswriter Ira Berkow, started Jan. 14. Sportscaster Brent Musburger is scheduled to speak Tuesday.

"The series has been very well received with about 300 people attending," said Rene Friedman, director of the Jupiter program. "We've even had people in their 20s show up."

Most lectures are taught by faculty from FAU and other nearby colleges and universities, although a growing number of out-of-town speakers are participating when they're in the area, Shapiro said.

Prices at FAU's classes tend to range from about $25 for single lectures to about $70 for multi-session classes, plus a membership fee. Nonmembers can pay a higher per-class fee.

NSU's program attracts people who want to attend a lot of classes. The cost is about $500 a year for unlimited classes four days a week, with a prorated charge for a partial year and free offerings in the summer.

Many of NSU's programs focus on the arts, including classes on opera, French literature and singer Tony Bennett as well as sessions on politics, history and the law.