As Commencement approaches, seniors can take comfort in the fact that their Yale educations do not have to end with graduation.
This year, Yale Alumni College — a program initiated by alumni volunteers and supported by the Association of Yale Alumni to provide courses for interested alumni, family and friends — has expanded the diversity of its curriculum, and is now offered in several more locations. Started in 2012 by current Program Chair Marv Berenblum ’56 along with other alumni, the program offers courses taught by Yale faculty or alumni who teach at other universities. Although the program began in New Haven and New York, it has now expanded to Princeton, New Jersey; Greenwich, Connecticut; Hartford, Connecticut; Rye, New York and Washington D.C. In addition, it now offers courses in the natural sciences as well as the humanities. Enrollment in the program this year reached 300.
“It surprises me that champions of our program have sprung up across different locations. It is fantastic to see campuses in Princeton, Washington D.C. and other parts of the U.S., and we are delighted that alumni across the U.S. are serving the Yale community and the larger community in general,” Berenblum said.
Courses in New Haven take place in the Rose Alumni House. In other cities, they take place in classrooms rented by alumni volunteers. Most courses are seminar-style, meeting for 1.5 hours a week, six times a semester, and cost under $500. Each branch of the College is independently operated by alumni volunteers in the specific area.
According to Andy Lipka ’78, the alumni volunteer who leads the program in Princeton, the responses from faculty and alumni have been overwhelmingly positive. Lipka said participants were thrilled about the opportunity to connect with other Yalies and to learn at a level that matches the quality of Yale courses again.
Lipka added that the program has generated enormous alumni re-engagement.
“Undergraduates and graduate students have spent most of their lives in the classroom. But the alumni in the College have gone out to the real world and walked back in to engage with the faculty,” Lipka said. “It is an amazing reaction.”
AYA Director for Strategic Initiatives Steve Blum ’74 added that the program fee was designed to make the program accessible to all alumni. He also pointed out that students, by volunteering and helping plan out social activities like outings, are also welcomed as part of the program.
James Holquist GRD ’68, a senior scholar of comparative literature at Columbia University who has taught in the Alumni College since 2011, said he enjoys interacting and sharing knowledge with “grown-ups” in the alumni college.
“This is one of the joys of teaching in the College, since as I grow older, I know less about the world inhabited by an annual turnover of undergraduates,” Holquist said.
For Gary Schlesinger ’73, an alumnus who works as a psychoanalyst in New York and who is the parent of two current Yalies, the College gave him an opportunity to read the texts he wished he could have read in school. Schlesinger has taken five courses in the Alumni College, including one on Russian short stories. He said he enjoyed engaging in intellectual conversations with people across different age groups.
He added that he enjoyed feeling like a student again.
“In the other parts of my life, I feel like I’m doing a lot of helping and teaching. This is the only time when I feel like I get to have someone to give me knowledge. It is vitalizing to be a student again,” he said. “I feel very privileged to be able to study with experts like Professor Holquist.”
Aside from the generally positive responses, faculty as well as alumni participants in the program have expressed some wishes for improvement. Although both the AYA and alumni volunteers were appreciative of the support that the Yale administration has offered, some Alumni College professors expressed concerns about resources.
Judith Malafronte, a professor in the School of Music, said it was at first challenging for her to set up her audio equipment, although she resolved the problem by using the piano in the classroom instead. Holquist listed a shortage of blackboards and large tables as examples of issues he encountered.
“Marv Berenblum and his staff have done wonders with very limited resources, but they do it all on a shoestring. I think the University could do more to support their efforts,” Holquist said.
In addition, Schlesinger said he and many other alumni participants wished the classes could extend longer than six weeks, so that they could have more time to engage with the texts.
In addition to the seminar-style teaching, the program has begun offering special lectures that are open to the public. Jessica Wright, AYA’s lead staff supporter of the program, listed the College’s partnership with the Osborn retirement community in Rye, New York last year as an example of the program’s efforts to broaden its reach.
Berenblum said he wishes to see even more expansion in the future, as alumni both in and outside of the US have expressed interest.
“This year we really know what we are doing, as opposed to developing the program as an experiment,” he said. “With the feedback from alumni and faculty members we now have the insight to further expand the program in terms of outings, venues, and locations.”
Roughly 1,400 people have enrolled in the Alumni College since its 2012 inception.