An assistant professor in the Gerontology program, Melissa Cannon is proud of Western Oregon University’s history of promoting age-friendly values in a variety of ways including encouraging lifelong learning and access to core institutional activities, community partnerships and intergenerational exchanges in teaching and learning.
WOU’s dedication and work in this area has resulted in being named a member of the Age-Friendly University (AFU) Global Network. An international effort pioneered by Dublin City University, AFU is dedicated to embracing the role higher education can play in serving the aging population. WOU is the second campus in Oregon to join the AFU.
“Joining the AFU demonstrates that WOU is an institution of higher education that is inclusive and accessible to people of all ages,” Cannon said. “The principles outlined by the AFU initiative are aspirational, so new ideas to build on the age-friendly strengths of WOU are currently being sought and explored.”
By 2034, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. People age 65 and older are expected to number 77 million, while children under age 18 will number 76.5 million.
“As our global population is aging, universities are seeking opportunities to embrace age diversity among students, support older workers and retirees and increase competency around the aging process among campus community members,” Cannon said. “According to Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University and pioneer of this effort, the AFU Network is committed to embracing the challenges and opportunities of our changing demographics through research, diversity and inclusion, enhanced learning opportunities for people across generations and through innovations that address specific issues affecting older adults.”
As the American population grows older, Cannon said there is an acute need for trained professionals who can work in nume
rous fields related to gerontology, elder care services and geriatric medicine. WOU’s Gerontology program is nationally recognized, and the graduates often have job offers before they even leave campus.
Cannon said adults in the community who are 65 years of age and older can already audit WOU classes free of tuition.
“In addition, WOU offers opportunities for older adults to engage in research, participate in a range of cultural activities and engage with younger students through educational events for the broader community,” Cannon said. “WOU will continue to look at new ways to be more age-friendly by, for example, launching new certificates and programs that serve the needs of an increasingly age-diverse student body and build connections between research efforts and public discourse.”