Boomer presence growing in classrooms

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2014 - 2:00 PM

One Day University’s lecture series, aimed at learners over 50, comes to Minneapolis later this month.

Former President Bill Clinton: Baby boomers are old enough to remember him.

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The education world is finding profits from the wallets of baby boomers who are lapping up later-in-life classroom opportunities.

For the second time in six months, the “One Day University” is coming to Minneapolis, offering a slate of eclectic lectures by full-fledged college professors aimed at people over 50 who want to learn for learning’s sake.

“All the clichés about Minneapolis and St. Paul are true. The population is well-educated. It’s an intellectually curious group. It’s a great book town and people support the arts,” said Steven Schragis, co-founder of New York-based One Day U.

The boomer quest for knowledge also is a growing part of a $12 billion continuing education industry.

“Boomers grew up believing in lifelong learning and they are going to take classes until they die,” said William Draves, president of Learning Resource Network, a national association for continuing education. “Generation Y takes more workplace courses but boomers take avocational and leisure courses.”

The classes offered through One Day University range from “Four books every book lover should read” to “Beethoven and the Beatles: Hearing the connections.”

The teaching faculty for the Twin Cities program come from some of the top schools in the country, including Brown, Rutgers and Vanderbilt universities.

Also in the mix is Tim ­Taylor, an economist who is managing editor of an economic journal based at Macalester College in St. Paul. Taylor’s topic is “Behavioral Economics: When Rational People Make Irrational Decisions.”

“I’m looking forward to it. These are my people whose idea of a good time is sitting in a dark, windowless room listening to lectures for eight hours,” Taylor said in an interview Thursday. “They’re old enough that I can make a reference to the Clinton administration and they know what I’m talking about.”

Professors are paid an honorarium of $1,500 to $2,000 plus expenses for their 75-minute lectures.

According to Schragis, the typical participants in One Day U are more than 50 years old, college educated and would rather take a class than play golf.

“These aren’t people interested in advancing their career or networking,” said Schragis. “These are people who are interested in better things, for whom learning is fun.”

One Day U’s first appearance in the Twin Cities last November drew about 450 people, Schragis said. About 600 are expected for the session on April 26. And a third visit is scheduled in October that will feature courses on “the genius” of Sinatra, Hitchcock and Picasso.

Draves said the demand for continuing education has grown notably since the U.S. economy emerged from its 2008 recession when Americans were spending about $6 billion a year on nontraditional classes.

While online education opportunities have shown increased demand at all levels, the emergence of the boomer market is notable just by the size of the boomer demographic, Draves said. Nor are boomers turned off by a registration fee, which in the case of One Day U, ranges from a discounted $154 to a full fee of $239.

“Time is more important to this group than money. They like seeing a professor with a name and are willing to pay for that,” said Draves.

The Star Tribune is a sponsor of the upcoming One Day U session and is offering its subscribers a discounted rate. For One Day U, which has annual revenue of $3 million to $3.5 million, partnering with a local newspaper is good for its bottom line.

“Newspaper readers very much match our demographic,” Schragis said. “And it gives us credibility.’’

More than a dozen U.S. cities will host One Day U events this year.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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