By Art Sherman
Members of the Berkshire Institute for Lifetime Learning in Massachusetts were recently surveyed to learn how they feel about B.I.L.L. and to explore new approaches to improve B.I.L.L. offerings. Both Ed and Phyllis Epstein contributed their considerable professional expertise to designing a statistically valid survey instrument and interpret the results. Wilma Michaels brought together the phone volunteers, and Bonnie and Bob Desrosiers devoted many hours to the tabulation and computerization of the survey data.

A more complete report of the survey, with information about the statistical confidence in the findings, is available on Some of the more interesting results are summarized below:

• Overall, members rate B.I.L.L. very highly with about half of them giving the highest possible rating, Excellent, and the overwhelming majority, 87%, rating it Excellent of Very Good. The Excellent rating was offered by 55% of the women surveyed but by only 32% of the men.

• The most extraordinary finding is the educational make-up of B.I.L.L. members. Based on the survey, more than half, 56% have post-graduate degrees. The Excellent rating was offered by 60% of members without post-graduate degrees and by 39% of those with advanced degrees.

• Women comprise 65% of the B.I.L.L. membership. The survey indicates that 50% have post-graduate degrees, 30% have college degrees and 20% are non-college graduates. In contrast, men comprise 35% of the membership. The survey indicates that 71% of them have post-graduate degrees, 24% have college degrees and 5% are non-college graduates.

• B.I.L.L. members residing full time in the Berkshires, (62%). Only 14% are here from 4-6 months and 24% are here from 7-11 months. The following breakdown of members’ ages was determined by the survey: Under 65 (23%), 65-69 (14%), 70-74 (32%), 75-79 (17%), and 80 plus (14%).

• B.I.L.L. members who joined in 2003 or earlier were asked how the organization compares now to when they first joined. Most said it was the same or better now.

• Those who joined in 2004 and 2005 rated B.I.L.L. better than they expected or about as expected. The two most frequent reasons given for finding it better were that the quality of the instructors was a pleasant surprise and more activities were offered than anticipated. Indeed 67% of the entire membership is very impressed with the instructors’ knowledge of their subject matter.

• The possibility of adding seminars or study group courses to the curriculum, with limited enrollment and course requirements, drew 36% interest.

• Very high interest was also shown in 2-3 week mini-courses held between the three current semesters (55% very interested). This clearly had the most appeal of all the ideas tested. Those that want seminar courses also want the between session mini-courses (71%). About 22% of the members indicated they are very interested in summer classes (primarily among those away in the winter). Interest in evening courses is centered mainly among men with 24% of them very interested.

• Only 2% expressed interest in B.I.L.L. offering social activities such as dinner dances or social clubs and 22% indicated “very interested” in B.I.L.L. sponsored travel.

• Most mentioned as “liked best” were the variety of courses, specific courses, quality of instructors, special event trips and intellectual stimulation.

Taken from the spring, 2006 newsletter of the Berkshire Institute for Lifetime Learning.




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