Boomers are back in college for retraining

Baby boomers are heading to community colleges for job retraining, reports USA Today.  While people over 50 make up 5 to 6 percent of community college enrollment, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the numbers are increasing.

AACC’s Plus 50 Initiative encourages colleges to create programs geared to older students.  When Plus 50 started in 2008 with 13 community colleges, the focus was on enrichment classes. But that changed quickly.

“The timing of the program coincided with the economy tanking,” says Mary Sue Vickers, director of the Plus 50 Initiative. “401(k)s dropped dramatically. Home values dropped. The colleges saw more and more of the people coming were coming for workforce training or retraining.”

So the AACC refocused the program in 2009 on work-related issues and expanded it this year with an additional 11 schools, hoping those schools can be models for the nation’s 2,200 two-year postsecondary institutions.

Older students prefer accelerated programs that can be completed quickly, such as training to be tax return preparers or security officers, says Jerone Gamble, completion coordinator at the College of Central Florida.

“It’s strange being older than your teachers,” says David Reiser, 56, of the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, Ill. Reiser started Joliet Junior College‘s automotive technology associate’s degree program in January after being laid off last year from his job as a construction estimator.

Colleges try to meet the physical needs of older students. Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, Mass. tells instructors to print syllabi in large type and wear microphones for lectures in big classrooms.