What we do

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville (formerly the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement) is an award-winning, internationally-acclaimed learning community dedicated to promoting lifelong learning, leadership, community service, and research. We opened our doors in 1988 as a department of the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Our goal is to enable our members to “thrive” in life’s second half.

OLLI at UNC Asheville(OLLI) embraces an unusually comprehensive array of programs in the arts and humanities, the natural world, civic engagement, wellness, life transition and retirement relocation planning, intergenerational co-learning, and research on trends in the reinvention of retirement.

Here’s a snapshot of what we do at OLLI.

How do we operate?

OLLI is housed in our own building, Reuter Center, on the UNC Asheville campus. Our collaborative member-staff led organization operates as a public-private entity, with two-thirds of our budget derived from endowment income and fees; and one-third from state funding. Approximately 450 members volunteer each year to do everything from teach, serve on committees, run research projects, mentor undergraduates, and provide consulting to other UNC Asheville departments.

Who participates?

OLLI membership is open to anyone who wishes to experience the wide range of courses and activities we offer. Most of our 2400 members are over 55, but we encourage attendance by any adult who wishes to be part of our community of learners. Many of our participants have relocated to the area, but we encourage those who have lived and worked in Western North Carolina throughout their lives to seek a creative retirement at OLLI. We benefit from a diversity of life experiences and points of view and value the opportunity to learn from one another both inside and outside our classes.

Who’s taking notice?

OLLI’s uniqueness has earned it frequent mention in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney, Business Week, Kiplinger’s, and The Christian Science Monitor, TV’s CBS Sunday Morning, and websites such as CNN.com, AOL.com and many others.

What do we stand for?

Our values express how we expect to travel where we want to go:

  • Sense of Community: We are a community of adults who share fellowship in an atmosphere that is respectful, stimulating, creative, fulfilling, and fun.
  • Lifelong Learning: We are an enthusiastic group of learners and teachers.
  • Innovation: We strive to be at the leading edge and model best practices nationally in learning, life transitions, and civic engagement programs for older adults.
  • Collaboration: We collaborate both within and outside OLLI to offer programs that benefit our members and the community.
  • Continuous Improvement: We seek continuous improvement in our communications, organization, inclusion, operations, programming, and facilities.
  • Service: We encourage our members to grow through service to OLLI, UNC Asheville, and the community.

OLLI continues to grow by taking the accumulated experience and knowledge of the past and making it newly relevant to the changing environment and conditions of life. Members get to join a new community by making friends with people who share their interests. Come and take your turn with us. You will discover wonderful, new aspects of yourself and the environment that surrounds you!

Mission Statement

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville’s mission is to promote thriving in life’s second half through programs in lifelong learning, leadership, community service, and research. OLLI will play a continuing leadership role in the field of lifelong learning and enrich the lives of people in the greater Asheville area. OLLI will promote innovative excellence through sharing its programs and research, both nationally and internationally.

OLLI (formerly the NC Center for Creative Retirement) was established in 1988 as an integral part of UNC Asheville with the threefold purpose of providing today’s accomplished adult with opportunities for lifelong learning, leadership and community service, each combined with the fellowship of peers sharing a common quest for continued growth and service to others.

OLLI participants help to set annual objectives and implement programs through the OLLI Steering Council in collaboration with OLLI’s professional staff. OLLI draws financial support from public funding, private fees, consulting services, gifts and foundation grants.


View a commemorative publication created on our 25th anniversary as a program and 10th anniversary housed in the Reuter Center.

In 1987, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation to provide annual funding to establish an innovative center at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. The program would encourage active seniors to continue to learn and to share their accumulated knowledge and expertise with their communities. The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement (in 2012 renamed Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville — OLLI) opened its doors in 1988 as a UNC Asheville public service initiative with statewide outreach components. The Center invited mid-life and older adults to engage in a revolutionary new idea. These seasoned adults would actively plan and carry out their own educational programs for lifelong learning, leadership, community service, wellness, and research in order to foster personal growth while channeling their energies back into their communities, thus benefiting members of all generations.

Impetus for establishment of the OLLI came from then UNC Asheville chancellor David Brown (1984-92) who led a team of planners made up of faculty, community leaders, and administrators in developing the concept of a center for older learners. Brown was able to convince regional representatives of the NC General Assembly of the merits of lifelong learning opportunities for older adults and the benefits of using education as a means of integrating newcomers (Asheville is a “retiree destination”) into the community. This led to their securing funding for the OLLI. Subsequent chancellors and legislators have been similarly enthusiastic and supportive of the OLLI’s mission.

Since 1988, the idea of “creative retirement” has gained considerable momentum. The Center has grown from 150 to more than 2300+ annual participants, gained a national reputation for its innovative approaches to lifelong learning, garnered numerous awards, and received state and national recognition in newspapers, magazines, scholarly journals, and in television and radio profiles. In the midst of a university campus primarily serving traditional-age undergraduates, the OLLI has become both a state and national laboratory for exploring productive ways young and old can learn together and from one another. These experiments are crucial because in just a couple of decades today’s undergraduates will belong to a society in which one of every five persons will be over age 60.