Enrichment Program Marks 20 Years of Lifelong Learning
For 20 years, the Enrichment Program at DU’s University College has been serving up a smorgasbord of classes for the community that celebrates lifelong learning and showcases the best of DU—from the first-class facilities to the expert faculty and their cutting-edge research.
With more than 50 multi-week classes and one-time lectures, this fall’s offerings continue the thought-provoking and accessible programming that former DU Chancellor Dan Ritchie and the former dean of University College, Jim Davis, had in mind two decades ago when they launched the program as a series of free lectures.
The series was so popular that Davis decided to turn it into a full-fledged program for adult learners—and the Enrichment Program was born.
“The program has always been a bridge to the community,” says Lynn Wells, the program’s director. “People know DU is here, in the middle of the city, but they don’t really know all the great things that are happening on this campus.”
Each term, Wells and her team start from scratch to create an ambitious curriculum that offers something for everyone. Classes, which are taught by faculty and industry experts, are often modified DU classes but also are created from current events, milestones and anniversaries of historic events—basically, Wells says, “what’s on people’s minds.”
This fall, for example, they’re offering everything from a class on the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and “Putin and His Wars” to “Chat GPT & Other AI Software” and “Sharing Our Lives, Strengthening Connections: Oral History and the Power of Storytelling.” Because they plan the curriculum six months in advance, they have to be quite forward-thinking, Wells says.
This was never more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Practically overnight, the team had to pivot their entire schedule of classes online—and demand skyrocketed. They asked instructors to come up with presentations on topics they were knowledgeable or passionate about, and the resulting series of free Zoom lectures in the summer of 2020 attracted 300+ people a day. Previously, they typically had 800-1,000 registrations for an entire term.
“COVID changed our entire business model,” Wells says. “Not only did we provide people with some social interaction and the ability to stay connected during a really scary time, but it also exposed people to our program who had never heard of it—not only from Denver but from around the country and the world.”
Up to that point, most students were over the age of 60 and retired, she says. But then, “people started inviting their grown children or friends to attend a class online with them, and we noticed our demographic started shifting downward. So, we are now intentionally casting a wider net because there’s so much programming available that really is relevant to people of all ages.”
What people want to learn about has also shifted in recent years. When Wells came to DU four years ago, she says the most popular classes were related to the arts, history and current events. They were getting ready to launch a class on nuclear weapons that students had been requesting for a while when the pandemic hit—and they had to cancel it due to low enrollment.
“COVID really changed people’s priorities. They were looking for classes that weren’t quite so heavy, and we saw a trend upward in classes that are more uplifting—a trend that continues today,” Wells says. She points to a class this fall called “Finding Your Fun: How Play Can Save Your Life and More,” taught by David Thomas, DU’s executive director of online programs, based on research that play and its social nature improves whole-body health and boosts happiness.
Post-pandemic, the program has returned to in-person classes but kept about half of its curriculum online—a change many students have welcomed, she says. But they are also partnering with local cultural organizations to offer more experiential learning opportunities. Students taking a class on the Beatles, for example, will attend a Beatles tribute concert by the Colorado Symphony, and those in the Finding Joy in Jazz class will see Grammy Award-winning vocalist Samara Joy perform at DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts.
They have also added the R1 Lecture Series to highlight the cutting-edge research being conducted by DU faculty and morphed the popular daily COVID lectures into a new free series called Feed Your Curiosity, which gives people a taste of what the Enrichment Program has to offer.
What it offers, says Wells, is a no-stress, convenient way for anyone, anywhere, to learn “just for the fun of it” while also keeping up with the world in which we live. “Thanks to the support of the University, we are reaching more students than ever, and we look forward to welcoming many more curious learners in the next 20 years.”
Learn more about the Enrichment Program and explore its catalog at https://universitycollege.du.edu/enrichment/.
The Enrichment Program, by the Numbers:
- In-person registrations (since 2003): 32,684
- Zoom registrations (since 2020): 10,373
- Number of students: 15,475
- Number of classes offered: 1,809
- Highest number of classes taken by one student: 79