Minneapolis, Minn. June 14, 2018 – The Bernard Osher Foundation was started in the late 1970s, by businessman and philanthropist Bernard Osher, to establish and support Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI) for seasoned learners aged 50 or older who want to foster the joy of learning. Today, the Foundation supports 121 programs nationwide; it acts as a resource and support center for OLLI programs. Each program is self-governed but must operate with a minimum of 500 members.
Northwestern University hosts the Foundation’s National Resource Center in the central region of the United States as well as one of its programs. Between their campus in downtown Chicago and the suburb of Evanston, the program boasts 1500+ members and is growing at a rate of 10-12% annually. The mass of baby boomers exiting the workforce attributes much to the growing numbers of community members that OLLI programs serve.
Unlike many non-credit programs that grapple in the modern educational landscape, the sole mission is to reach older community members and structure exploration and learning outside traditional academic classrooms, which many of its members have outgrown. This segment of the community does not follow the trend sweeping the nation to seek healthcare or information technology certifications. Instead, Northwestern reports their most popular interest is in classes such as history and literature.
To keep up with the demand for the program, the OLLI at Northwestern University needed to update its tools and processes. The program director set up a committee and researched potential registration system vendors for about five months. The choice became clear, as all the systems they investigated lacked the flexibility to accommodate membership-based tuition, which is integral to an OLLI program.
Northwestern found it could more effectively manage courses and registrations with the use of Lumens. Prior to Lumens, OLLI at Northwestern was taking registrations by means of paper forms. “On registration day, we’d collect hundreds of walked-in forms and mailed in forms in envelopes. A week could go by and we would still have 700+ unopened envelopes stacked in a pile,” stated Kirsty Montgomery, Director of OLLI Northwestern. The program also benefits from the ability to run one-time events such as social events, annual parties and concerts, being able to charge a ticket fee with registrations.
Instructors or, Coordinators, as they are referred to in OLLI programs, immediately benefitted from Lumens as well. Montgomery noted that “often Coordinators would get their roster, only to find it was essentially obsolete.” With Lumens the coordinator can log in and get an up-to-date roster with the click of a few buttons. This helps coordinators better prepare for their study groups (classes). Further, the ability to email directly from the system made additionally needed coordination with participants efficacious.
The staff’s work is now mostly preparatory; loading the courses and adding Coordinators prior to registration opening. Northwestern is also saving operational costs on printing and postage now that the catalog is readily available online. The Lumens system also reduces the number of errors and stress of processing paper registration forms. “One of my biggest fears was to launch a new system, only to overwhelm it and have something go wrong on awaited day of registration opening. I had heard such cases from peer programs,” Montgomery stated. “We haven’t had a single problem with Lumens’ ability to accommodate our capacity, or rush of registrations.”
While some older members have yet to independently register themselves, Northwestern continues to encourage them. The user-friendly interface of Lumens makes this feasible. The staff hosts days where members may come register themselves with assistance from staff where needed. They also produce tutorial videos to help support self-registration. Montgomery suspects when they started in fall of 2016, 45% were registering online. Today, it is about 70% and steadily increasing.
Northwestern University’s OLLI program is a model program for lifelong learning. It is located in Chicago and purchased Lumens in late spring of 2015.
Augusoft®, Inc. develops and maintains Lumens® – the first SaaS enrollment management system specifically designed for the corporate and continuing education and workforce development programs. More than 6.6 million students have registered for continuing education classes using Lumens, which processes over $1M daily on behalf of its customers. Visit https://augusoft.net to see Lumens in action.
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