The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), formerly known as Senior College, just received a large cash donation that could ensure its financial stability indefinitely.
Bernard Osher, a native Mainer, donated $2.2 million, the largest such gift in USM history.
Intended for community members over the age of 55, OLLI has become more popular in recent years.
“That endowment will ensure our future. We won’t have to fundraise and worry about our survival every year, and that allows us to get creative,” said Kali Lightfoot, OLLI director. “It’s every foundation’s dream to have an endowment fund.”
The money was donated to the University and permanently sits in an investment account while OLLI gets the interest. OLLI is guaranteed at least 5 percent interest, or $100,000 a year depending on interest rates.
“It’s a little deceptive because it comes in slowly as an endowment. The $2 million, we will never spend any of that money,” said Lightfoot. “It will sit in an investment and the University will use that money while we get the interest. It comes in slowly enough so we can handle it, so we don’t get overwhelmed.”
The college is developing ideas on how to spend the money. At the time of the donation, OLLI was in the process of raising money on its own. So far it has $70,000 to remodel the classrooms it uses in Payson Smith Hall. The college will replace desks with tables and chairs, repaint and carpet the rooms and install new sound systems. The college will use some of Osher’s gift to aid in the renovations.
Another plan is to explore transportation options for students. The college intends to spend $50,000 to look at alternatives to parking on campus. Currently, OLLI students have decals for parking at the Marginal Way parking lot during the week and then on campus on Fridays.
OLLI also plans to do some hiring with the funds. A full-time administrative assistant, part-time publicity and conference coordinator and part-time faculty member are three positions Lightfoot would like to fill.
Right now the school is primarily staffed by students and volunteers. The administrative office has 10 female students who split afternoon shifts staffing the office, and most of the classes are taught by retired USM professors and fellow students on a volunteer basis.
The school will also look to hire a gerontologist to add a research component to OLLI. The researcher will gather data at the college and explore how the elderly learn and what actions stimulate the brain, according to Susan Swain, associate director of Media and Community Relations.
This will extend the services that OLLI offers to include academic programs, the Lifelong Learning Network (which is other senior college branches across the state) and now the research component.
The money that OLLI received will also affect younger students, according to Lightfoot.
“Our institution wants to give something back for all the space and time the University has given the college. It will be nice for students to enjoy clean, new, freshly put-together rooms,” said Lightfoot in regards to the renovations that will take place on the second floor and basement level of Payson-Smith Hall.
Swain also believes that the $2.2 million is a gift to all students.
“This is another way that USM can get on the map,” she said. “Our goal is reaching excellence on a national level. And I think that helps the University overall.”.
“And even though our core mission is students who are traditional and nontraditional, it’s our mission to provide an education all across the spectrum, to all ages,” said Swain.
“It will attract more money to the University. Other donors will look at you as somebody to give more money to. Everyone wants to back a winner.”
Staff Writer Sherry Whittemore can be contacted at: [email protected]