Making the Case For Quality
Education - Adult/Continuing Education
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Brandeis University (BOLLI) was established in September 2000 on the Brandeis campus in Waltham, MA. The institute is a member-based, nonprofit organization and a key part of both the Brandeis and the Boston area communities.
Product or Service
BOLLI offers opportunities for lifelong learning, with the main goals of maximizing quality of life and cognitive vitality. Its 400 members range in age from the early 50s to the late 80s, with an average age of 68. Their paid membership entitles them to enroll in at least two courses a semester, participate in a lunchtime lecture program, use the Brandeis library and receive discounts to university events. Members have become a growing and welcome part of the overall Brandeis community, which is one of their reasons for joining BOLLI: Besides the courses themselves, they seek interaction and community involvement.
The members also help run the BOLLI program, serving on 13 committees such as the curriculum committee. Course leaders are considered peers and come from many of the same professions as members: academia, law, art, engineering, etc. In addition to knowing their subject matter and providing structure to the courses, instructors must demonstrate a large amount of passion and enthusiasm for their subjects.
BOLLI was started less than five years ago and has grown quickly. Its immediate success can be partially attributed to external factors, such as its location at the intersection of three major crossroads in a growing metropolis and its capitalization on the growing trend of a large aging population wanting to stay physically active and cognitively engaged. But much of BOLLI’s success is due to the background, mind-set and practices of its director, Sharon Sokoloff, Ph.D. A self-described “infrastructure queen,” she began her career in the healthcare industry, where she became involved in quality toward the end of her time there. From the beginning, she built BOLLI on a foundation of continuous improvement (CI) tools.
In 1983 a mentor introduced Dr. Sokoloff to the work of Avedis Donabedian, considered by some to be the father of healthcare quality. His structure, process, outcome paradigm formed the basis for Dr. Sokoloff’s thinking. While BOLLI immediately attracted 275 members at its outset, it needed an infrastructure to grow. Dr. Sokoloff built one based on a matrix, with each element (structures, process and outcomes) inhabiting a column and rows for many other factors, including curriculum, facilities, funding, etc. She systematically and regularly looks at each cell within this framework to ensure it’s aligned with BOLLI’s annual goals.
The structure part of the matrix is partially supported by information systems. As an example of CI, BOLLI recently created a second-generation database of its members. The program had started with an elementary one, created On-Site, that had worked well for four years but couldn’t support BOLLI’s growth. Another example is a simple spreadsheet Dr. Sokoloff created to monitor spending.
Dr. Sokoloff attributes the 45% increase in BOLLI members (275 to 400) in such a short time to the program’s infrastructure and focus on customers, including their integral involvement. BOLLI’s strong CI foundation has also earned it commitment from the top: The president of Brandeis believes so strongly in BOLLI that he has supported it in every way, including financially. BOLLI is in its second year of funding from a trust amounting to $50,000 a year for five years. The program also recently received a $100,000 grant from the Osher Foundation. This funding relieves the university budget of some of its fixed costs in the form of BOLLI staff salaries and benefits, thus ensuring all revenues go straight to Brandeis’ bottom line. It also helps BOLLI improve its program in a way that benefits the university overall, supporting outreach programs to Brandeis graduate and foreign students that provide teaching and policy experience.