Virginia Western Community College was recently selected to join the Plus 50 Encore Completion Program, a national effort to train 10,000 baby boomers for new jobs in healthcare, education and social services. The program is sponsored by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
The college will assist adults age 50 and over in completing degrees or certificates in high-demand occupations that give back to the community. With many adults age 50 and over out of work or seeking to transition to a new career, the program offers skill updates and career makeovers for baby boomers.
“We have always been dedicated to serving a diverse age range at Virginia Western, and we have found that many of the baby boomers are now in need of additional education as they reach the back end of their careers,” said Dr. Robert H. Sandel, President of Virginia Western. “This program will help us reach out and relate to many students who may not have taken a class for a number of years.”
Virginia Western Community College is one of 36 new colleges recently selected for the project. Since 2008, AACC and its network of Plus 50 Initiative colleges have worked with baby boomers and helped them prepare for new careers. An independent evaluation of AACC’s Plus 50 Initiative found that 89 percent of students agreed that college work force training helped them acquire new job skills, and 72 percent attributed landing a job to such training.
“Many adults age 50 and over want to train for new jobs that help others and are hiring, but they need to update their skills. Community colleges offer a supportive environment where baby boomers can train for new jobs quickly and affordably, while completing a marketable degree or certificate,” said Mary Sue Vickers, director for the Plus 50 Initiative at AACC.
In addition to receiving grant funds to augment training programs, participating colleges gain access to toolkits and extensive marketing resources tailored to reach baby boomers. They’ll also benefit from the advice and support of staff at other community colleges that have successfully implemented programs for older learners and understand the unique needs of the plus 50 student population. Virginia Western’s project coordinator, Sarah Olson, attended the national Plus 50 Conference in San Francisco.
“One issue we discussed was adjusting the classroom environment to meet the needs of the Plus 50 students,” Olson said. “We hope to implement these teaching techniques and strategies through professional development workshops for instructors and staff. This will help make the college experience more rewarding for older students.”
The Plus 50 Encore Completion Program is funded with a $3.2 million grant to AACC provided by Deerbrook Charitable Trust. The Plus 50 Encore Completion program supports AACC’s work to increase the number of students who finish degrees, certificates, and other credentials. In April 2010, AACC committed alongside other higher education organizations to promote the development and implementation of policies, practices and institutional cultures that will produce 50 percent more students with high quality degrees and certificates by 2020.
“Training for a new career can be challenging, especially for those who are returning to the classroom after spending decades in the workforce,” Vickers said. “It’s critical for colleges to have supports in place to help baby boomers acclimate to college successfully, so they can successfully complete training programs in these high-demand fields and get back to work.”
Baby boomers, like traditional students, can face challenges that slow or stop their progress toward degrees or certificates. Applying for admission with non-digital transcripts, navigating an online registration system, and determining which courses to take for a degree or certificate are just the start of a plus 50 student’s journey into higher education. Finding time to study, facing fears about math or computers, updating skills and going to classes with younger students, often while working full-time and caring for other family responsibilities, can slow the momentum from a plus 50 student’s career aspirations. Many of these issues can be mitigated through better academic advising, refresher courses and support programs tailored to baby boomer needs.
During the conference, the attendees learned how to identify resources, apply best practices for helping plus 50 students and mobilize support. They also learned how the initiative will be monitored and evaluated, so other colleges throughout the country can learn from and replicate it.