One Day University: Learn Locally From America’s Top Professors
As a journalist, I’d normally have nothing but despair about the problems facing the newspaper industry. However, I’ve recently found one piece of good news coming out of them: the publishers’ hunt for revenue opportunities has led to the nationwide expansion of a fantastic and fun way for people over 50 to learn. The program is called One Day University and I’ve been a “student” since its 2007 founding.
Back then, One Day U founder Steven Schragis brought to New York City for a single day or half a day some of the nation’s most popular college professors as rated by students. The professors gave their most popular lecture for roughly an hour, followed by questions. Then, as now, topics ranged from politics to music (perhaps a class on a classical composer or The Beatles or one on the connection between them) to literature to art to history to movies.
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The Key to One Day University
The key, as Schragis told me when I wrote a Next Avenue story about One Day U in 2012, was that the lectures had to be entertaining. “People who come love to learn,” he said. “They’re not here to reach a goal. If you don’t think it’s fun to find out what Mozart was really like, we’re not for you.”
I caught up with Schragis recently and he said he initially thought One Day University classes would be taught solely in New York City, and possibly its suburbs. “I admit I’m a typical New Yorker. I wasn’t aware there were 49 other states,” he joked. And for five years, the classes were given entirely in and around New York.
Then, out of the blue, “the executive editor from The Providence Journal called and said: ‘I was at one of your events a few weeks ago, a guest of my sister, and I had a really good time. I was thinking maybe you could bring this event to Providence or something like it. You set it up and we’ll work out the details.’”
The editor told Schragis: “Print advertising revenue is not what it used to be and we need new revenue sources. We think the events business is one we should be looking at.”
How One Day U Went Nationwide
So the One Day University and Providence Journal teams got to work and threw the first non-New York area One Day U. Schragis and his team found the professors; the Journal ran ads in the paper. “It was pretty successful,” Schragis recalls.
After that, the publisher and CEO of the Journal’s parent company A.H. Belo — who was also publisher of its Dallas Morning News — phoned and invited Schragis to fly down for a lunch to discuss bringing One Day U there. “They put on a very big event with the same arrangement,” he said. Over time, more and more papers started calling.
Today, One Day University programs (some are a full day, some are four hours during a day and some are two hours in the daytime or at night) appear in 62 locations, mostly big and medium-size cities from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., as well as in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada. Cincinnati, Baltimore and San Jose are among the newer cities. There’ll be seven more One Day University events coming up in August and 15 in September. Most students prefer the half-day events.
The most unique presentation each year: One Day U’s day at the beautiful and legendary Tanglewood music center in The Berkshires, where students listen to a day of lectures and then watch the Boston Symphony Orchestra play Beethoven’s 9th. It’ll be Sunday, August 26 with classes on American Foreign Policy: Where Are We Headed?, The Science of Sleep and Stress and Climate Change, Nature and the Environment: What We Know and What We Don’t Know. It’s sold out.
The Newspaper Trail
When I wrote about One Day University in 2012, some 15,000 students had attended. By now, over 100,000 have, with as many as 3,000 at a single event. In all the ones around the country but Tanglewood, local papers join forces with One Day U to present classes. One Day University now earns 50% of its revenues from partnerships with newspapers. The cost to attend is generally $159 for a full-day or four hours; $95 for two hours — before the newspaper’s discount codes. Schragis told me that “in Seattle, [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos and his mother came and used The Seattle Times discount.”
Schragis added: “Without being morbid, we got lucky. Our growth got fueled by the problems in the newspaper industry. We didn’t create them, but we offered a semi-solution.”
Attendees, or students if you will, typically think they’re going to an event from their beloved newspaper.
“If you go to Miami, people say: ‘The Miami Herald does this One Day University.’ In Chicago, they say: ‘Oh, The Tribune produces this interesting program,’ Schragis notes. “Having it associated with the newspaper turned out to be a big plus. With all the problems papers are having, they’re not disliked, they’re loved. It’s just that technology has caused them huge problems.”
Virtually all the students at a city’s first One Day U are print subscribers. “In all honesty, the type of people who come to One Day U are the type who read their newspaper every day and go to art museums and like live theater. They’re also not 26 years old. Most have been subscribers for decades,” says Schragis. Subsequent offerings in a city bring in new students who’ve heard about the program from friends and family who attended.
City and Regional Differences
Most of the cities have two One Day U events a year. A metropolis like San Francisco might have three. New York has 20 to 25. “We’re always trying new stuff there,” says Schragis.
The curriculum generally isn’t city or regional specific, although, Schragis says, Sports and Society does better in the South — places like Dallas an Charlotte and Raleigh — and some political classes are a little more popular in New York, San Francisco and Boston.
There is one difference between locations, though. “Minneapolis is really the nicest city in the country. If you start five minutes late there, they don’t care. If you start five minutes late in New York, you’ve got people screaming,” jokes Schragis.
Watching One Day U Professors Online
If you can’t get to any of the program’s cities or aren’t free on event days, you can go to the One Day University site and watch any of the hundreds of previous classes there, such as Women of the American Revolution or Broadway: Past, Present and Future or Einstein: The Man Behind the Myth for $12 each.
You can also watch One Day U livestreams there for $12 apiece; the next one is Monday, August 20, from 7 pm to 9 pm ET, when Bard College professor Joseph Luzzi will lecture on The Presidents’ Book Club — Books That Shaped Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy and more…
To learn about future One Day University events where you live, click on the “Join Our Email List” button at the top of the One Day U website’s page.
And if you’ll be at its Six Professors in Just One Morning in New York City on Saturday, October 27, please look for me.