Colorado State in pursuit of ‘Age-Friendly University’ status

Moving through Parkinson's class

CSU Dance Instructor Lisa Morgan leads a group of older adults during a “Moving Through Parkinson’s” session on campus in spring 2018. CSU Photography

Colorado State University is making headway toward its goal of becoming an “Age-Friendly University,” a designation that recognizes a culture of lifelong learning and age-inclusivity across programs and practices in institutions of higher education.

The AFU Global Network, created by Dublin City University and endorsed by the Gerontological Society of America and the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education, consists of a growing list of more than 65 universities and colleges worldwide that have endorsed the 10 Age-Friendly University Principles.

Age-friendly universities have committed to developing educational and research opportunities that respond to the needs and desires of an increasingly older population. According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging, it is estimated that the number of older adults in the United States will double by the year 2060, from 48 million people in 2015 to 98 million people. Studies of this “population aging” predict a future where jobs in the aging industry are in demand; that older adults will have not one but two or more careers across their lifetimes; and globally, the status quo of education, work, urbanization, food and water security, and more will shift.

“Population aging means that more older adult learners are looking to higher education to meet their professional needs as they experience longer work lives, a return to work, or opportunities in encore careers,” said Nicole Ehrhart, director of the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging at CSU. “CSU’s road map to achieve a designation as an Age-Friendly University will benefit all members of the academic community by expanding intergenerational learning opportunities and programs that support an age-diverse student body.”

Guided by age-friendly principles

As an institution whose land-grant mission prioritizes research and innovation, inclusion and equity, service and engagement, education and excellence, CSU has long been guided by principles that align with those of an Age-Friendly University. And, the University already has a compelling case for applying for AFU status.

The Center for Healthy Aging unites more than 59 faculty members across four colleges who are researching critical aging issues through lenses such as psychology, engineering, health and exercise science, veterinary medicine, behavioral science, and beyond. Clinical trials and research studies are regularly spearheaded by center-affiliated faculty, making aging a core research focus in areas of sustainability, energy, public health, and infectious diseases, and more.

On the education front, the Department of Human Development and Family Studies offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees that introduce students to lifespan development from birth to adulthood, as well as an undergraduate interdisciplinary minor in gerontology that develops students’ understanding of the aging process. Aging-related courses can also be found in a number of other departments and degree programs, such as “Nutrition and Aging” in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, or “Physical Activity Throughout the Lifespan” in Health and Exercise Science.

In addition, CSU’s Northern Colorado location is highly regarded for its commitment to healthy aging. Both Larimer County and the state of Colorado are enrolled in the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, with elected officials and community leaders having pledged to make this region a healthy, accessible, inclusive place to live for both younger and older people.

Gap analysis underway

Adding the designation of Age-Friendly University to CSU’s list of accolades is a natural extension of programs and practices already in place locally and regionally. It would also position CSU as the first Age-Friendly University in the state — another perk to the endeavor.

To aid in the pursuit of AFU status, the Center for Healthy Aging is working on a gap analysis to better understand the current climate and culture of age-friendliness and age-inclusivity in the campus community. Those affiliated with CSU are invited to take part in a survey to identify current gaps and opportunities for growth.

All survey responses are anonymous and only group summary data will be analyzed. The survey will be open until Feb. 22, and is available at this link.

Questions about the survey or CSU’s age-inclusivity plans can be directed to Nicole Ehrhart at