The Learning in Retirement Movement in North America
Nancy Merz Nordstrom



Nancy's new book, "Learning Later, Living Greater: The Secret for Making the Most of Your After-50 Years," is a guide for transforming the after-work years into a richly satisfying period of personal growth and social involvement.



The first known Institute for Learning in Retirement (ILR) in the United States was called the Institute for Retired Professionals, created in 1962 in New York City under the sponsorship of the New School for Social Research. During the subsequent 25 years, news of the concept spread, primarily by word of mouth and with little media attention. It was imitated or adapted at other institutions of higher learning, until about fifty such programs existed by 1988. In that year, thirty ILRs collaborated with Elderhostel, Inc. to form a voluntary association known as the Elderhostel Institute Network (EIN). The goals of EIN were to help establish new institutes, provide resources and services to established institutes and develop an all-inclusive organization of institutes for learning in retirement.



Between 1988 and 1999 more than 200 new ILRs were started in North America under the aegis of EIN. Each independent institute who became an affiliate of EIN, paid annual dues to help support the services of the national office. Dues to EIN by the ILRs did not cover expenses, however, and the majority of EIN's financial support was supplied by Elderhostel, Inc.



Although each institute was unique and slightly different from each other, there were three things each had in common. The first was that each institute was sponsored by a host college/university to ensure academic integrity and so members would have access to the many benefits of being located on a campus of higher learning. The second commonality was encouraging older learners to take "ownership" of their institute by becoming members and paying dues to support it. The last similarity was encouraging volunteer participation by members in their institute, which helps develop a real sense of community among older learners.



In 2002, it was decided that the time had come for some changes. The learning in retirement movement was now a mature entity, having been part of the national educational scene since 1962. Established institutes did not need the same level of services from EIN as in the past, and many did not want to continue paying dues. Although EIN was still helping start new ILRs, even that work had become more streamlined as there were many examples from which to draw.



Going back to the original intent of EIN to develop an all-inclusive organization of ILRs, it was apparent that was not happening as ILRs continued to drop out of EIN. So Elderhostel, Inc. in conjunction with EIN staff and ILR representatives, made the decision to drop the dues all together. Services were streamlined even more and EIN has now become a "virtual" organization with services provided via the Elderhostel website. This has enabled the EIN staff to take on other Elderhostel duties along with their EIN responsibilities.



As a result, membership in EIN has risen dramatically over these last three months. From a low of about 215 ILRs, there are now just over 360 ILRs who belong to EIN. It is hoped that as time goes on, even more will join. EIN estimates that there are about 500 such institutes across North America.



Along with dropping dues, it was recently decided by the committee who represent all the ILRs, to invite programs for older adults that demonstrate high academic standards, but do not necessarily have a college/university connection, to join EIN too. There are between 300-500 of these programs as well, bringing the North American total for learning programs for older adults to around 1,000. It is quite clear that the future of the learning in retirement movement is very secure and will continue to grow, well into the 21st century.



To learn more about institutes for learning in retirement, now called lifelong learning institutes (LLIs), and the Elderhostel Institute Network, please visit and click on the link that says Institute Network on the left side of the page, or go directly to


Nancy Merz Nordstrom,
Program Manager, Elderhostel Institute Network
11 Avenue deLafayette,
Boston, MA 02111-1746
PHONE: 617-457-5564; FAX: 617-728-4933