Brief History

The Learning in Retirement movement began some thirty five years ago at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Now generally called “Life-Long Learning Institutes” or LLIs, such organizations are blossoming around the country. “Older adults care about education…they are intense, self-motivated learners, and they define their own educational experiences and enthusiasms,” according to the Road Scholar Institute Network, a national support group. 5CLIR is now one of the more established of the many LLIs around the country and one of the more autonomous.

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In March, 1988, at the suggestion of Carl Swanson, retired professor from the University of Massachusetts , Conn Nugent, the Five Colleges, Incorporated Coordinator, called together a group to discuss “a possible education program for retirees and semi-retirees in the Five College Community”. Included were representatives from Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges , the University of Massachusetts and the Town of Amherst’s Council on Aging.

In May, the Five College Presidents approved the pilot program described in the group’s request for… an educational opportunity designed and offered by retirees for and to themselves… a program of senior study groups modeled on the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement… that will draw on the richly endowed intellectual resources of the Valley’s retired community and that will enable its participants to study together.

Our membership will include those individuals who feel intellectually restless and who are now free to:

1) pursue new fields of study,
2) ponder again old neglected ones, and/or
3) share, and thus reshape, familiar ideas with peers of diverse backgrounds and experiences who also remain intellectually independent and alert…

Peer learning and participation by members will not only be the intertwined concepts on which this proposed program will rise, but they will also remain integral to it at every stage…

The Division of Continuing Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was initially assigned as the administrative agency to help with the beginnings of the program. In October, 1988, a letter signed by all five presidents of the colleges and the university was widely distributed together with a survey to local retirees inviting their participation in the program.

The spring of 1989 saw five seminars with some forty retirees actively engaged in learning. In August of 1990 the program moved from the Division of Continuing Education to a direct and more autonomous relation with Five Colleges, Incorporated, whose Executive Director, Neal Abraham, and Treasurer, Barbara Lucey, continue to offer valued support.

Mission Statement

Adopted by Council, November 14, 2002 To enrich our lives by providing forums for sharing the pleasures of active learning. To implement this mission we…

1. offer educational programs whose core is peer-led seminars in which each member is an active participant. These seminars are ordinarily held in any of the five colleges in the Pioneer Valley (Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst);

2. expect members to (a) accept our core commitment to active participation, (b) pay dues and (c) be willing to share in the responsibilities of the organization, all with an awareness of and support for the physical and financial aspects of aging;

3. manage the organization through our elected Council representatives and officers with the guidance and assistance of Five Colleges, Incorporated;

4. acknowledge that, although our primary purpose is intellectual pursuit, we recognize and encourage the social rewards of shared learning;

5. offer a variety of programs with a “participatory component” both for ourselves and the larger community in a social setting that sustains and nurtures friendships, old and new.

6. believe that a diverse membership is central to a rich and stimulating learning environment, therefore we strive to provide a welcoming atmosphere to all.

Membership Survey

In 2009, a survey was done of the 5CLIR membership. The results were distributed along with the May 2010 Newsletter. More detailed results can be found on the 5CLIR Resources page.

Regional Resources

The Pioneer Valley is rich with intellectual and cultural resources. We have compiled a list of other resources of interest to our participants.


© 2023 Five College Learning in Retirement
P.O. Box 105
202 Plain Road
North Hatfield, MA 01066

‪(413) 200-9816‬