Grandparents University

No football, just a chance for grandparents and grandchildren to bond over class.

By Rich Thomaselli

Grandparents who stress the importance of education to their grandchildren can now back up those words with actions.

Several colleges around the country have embraced a concept known as "Grandparents University," a program that offers grandparents and grandchildren the chance to take several days' worth of classes, live in a dormitory, eat in the cafeteria and experience college life — including, in some cases, “graduating.”

Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay are just two of the schools offering Grandparents University classes on their respective campuses in late spring and early summer. Michigan State’s three-day session in June is already sold out, and the school is expecting more than 500 participants after drawing 542 last year.

UW-Green Bay is still accepting applications for its two-day program July 24 and 25, and is expecting more than 100 participants.

“This is our third year, and each year we focus on different faculty expertise,” said Barbara McClure-Lukens, UW-Green Bay’s director of the Office of Outreach and Extension. “This time we’re offering four different ‘majors.’”

Just like college students, participants select a major, can choose whether to live on campus or commute (children and grandparents must stay together in the dorm suites), and can participate in a graduation ceremony at the end of the experience. The majors this year are computer science, art, human biology, and natural history and ecology. The classes are designed for children ages 7 to 14.

McClure-Lukens told that all courses are taught by school professors, not adjuncts.

“It’s a program that's going to boom, and I use that phrase specifically because as baby boomers who are grandparents move into retirement, they’re going to want to do more — for themselves and their grandchildren,” she said. “They want active learning experiences, and they want to get it into their grandchildrens’ heads early about the importance of college.”

McClure-Lukens added that the program was also a great way to bring long-distance families together.

“Grandparents University becomes something for them to do,” she said. “We’ve had families who were scattered across the country where the grandparents and grandchildren met here on campus for the classes.”

At Michigan State, the three-day experience from June 25 to 27 includes two nights in the dorms for grandparents and grandchildren ages 8 to 12. There are three-hour classes in the morning and in the afternoon, and an evening program that runs the gamut of a college student’s experiences, including ice skating on the same on-campus rink used by the nationally ranked MSU hockey team, bowling and billiards at the Student Union, swimming at the natatorium, and movies at the dorm.

Michigan State is a research university and much larger than UW-Green Bay, and therefore offers a list of classes for Grandparents University that is 11 pages long and includes instruction in everything from agriculture to education, engineering, social sciences, music, veterinary medicine, and more.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison — ironically where the 1980s Rodney Dangerfield film Back to School was filmed — first came up with the idea of classes for grandparents and grandchildren, and recently trademarked the name Grandparents University.


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