Middle-Aged Community Colleges

, American Association of Community Colleges, Leave a comment

WASHINGTON,
D.C. – Move over 18-year-old high school students. There’s a new student on
campus, and she might be your mom. A new survey by the Plus 50 Initiative at the
American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) finds that community colleges
are reaching out to students over the age of 50 and planning to expand programs
for them.


 


Eighty-four
percent of the 204 community colleges participating in the survey reported that
their institutions offer programs for students over the age of 50. Ninety-three
percent of these colleges perceive a demand for this type of programming –
predominantly from people age 50 and up in their community, but from business
and community organizations as well.


 


Many
community colleges reported that they plan to expand their offerings for plus 50
students. Seventy percent of colleges offering enrichment courses for plus 50
students said that they plan to expand their offerings. Half of the 14 percent
that do not currently have enrichment offerings for baby boomers plan to add
them in the future.


 


The results
came as no surprise to George R. Boggs, AACC President and CEO. “Community
colleges have a long history of reaching out to non-traditional students and
structuring programs to meet immediate community needs. It’s heartening to see
so many colleges throwing a lifeline to plus 50 students coping with a difficult
job market during distressing economic times.”


 


With
plunging retirement accounts forcing them to stay on the job into what have
traditionally been retirement years, baby boomers are increasingly turning to
community colleges for help refreshing their workplace skills and job
training. 


 


Fifty-eight
percent of the colleges with plus 50 programs reported that they offer workforce
training and career development for plus 50 students. These include programs
like resume tune-ups, job interviewing boosters, computer refresher courses, and
certificate programs for training in new careers. Forty-five percent of the
colleges with workforce training and career development programs reach out to
local employers to communicate the value of plus 50 employees. Thirty-eight
percent of them also offer workshops, training, and other resources to employers
seeking to recruit or retain plus 50 workers.


 


Coming back
to campus after decades away can be a daunting experience. To make the
transition into the classroom easier, 36 percent of the colleges said that they
have modified curriculum or delivery to meet the needs of plus 50 students.
Two-thirds have allocated staff time to support plus 50 student programs. Nearly
35 percent of them have put in place easy registration processes for these
non-traditionally aged students.


 


Targeted
marketing is increasingly important. Forty-three percent are using marketing
plans to let plus 50 adults know about the educational opportunities available
to them at community colleges. About one-quarter of the institutions said within
the last five years they had conducted a needs assessment of the local
population that is age 50 and over to help guide their program
development.


 


In spite of
these promising developments, researchers found that external factors beyond the
control of the responding colleges frequently affected their ability to support
programs for plus 50 students.


 


Providing
tuition waivers for the over 50 population presents a challenge for 65 percent
of reporting institutions. State policies for tuition waivers leave many plus 50
adults in the lurch and without financial aid. Tuition waivers are frequently
not available for adults under the age of 60 and are often provided for
full-time students only. They may only be used with for-credit courses or to
cover courses that are under-enrolled. Older learners frequently attend part
time and may be drawn to non-credit courses.


 


More than
half of the community colleges that have programming reported that formulas used
to hold colleges accountable pose a challenge to implementing plus 50 student
programs. In many states, community college funding is based on the number of
full time equivalent (FTE) students. Consequently, the more FTEs a community
college has, the more funding it receives. Typically, only credit courses, which
are less attractive to plus 50 students, count for FTE computations. As a
result, many community colleges do not receive state funding to support plus 50
students. Many colleges realize that attracting plus 50 students to campus,
could actually cause a net revenue drain.


 


“The
policies in many states pose a conundrum for community colleges that are seeking
to help a baby boomer population that wants short-term workforce training and
career development programs,” said Boggs. “The survey results provide ample
recommendations to help community colleges improve their outreach for plus 50
students, but they also demonstrate the challenges facing the plus 50 student
movement.”


 


Approximately 204 community colleges
responded to the survey, which was conducted in fall 2008 and sent to 1,177
institutions representing every community college in the United States.
Researchers caution that the sample did not perfectly represent the population
of community colleges, and that respondents were more likely to be larger and
multi-campus institutions.


 


An
executive summary and a full report detailing the survey’s results are available
at http://plus50.aacc.nche.edu


 



 


The Plus
50 Initiative is a three-year initiative sponsored by the AACC with a $3.2
million dollar grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies. For 88 years, the AACC
has been the leading advocate for the nation’s community colleges, which
currently number more than 1,177 and serve close to 12 million students
annually. Its membership comprises 90% of all public two-year colleges – the
largest, most accessible, and most diverse sector of U.S. higher
education

 

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