April 3, 2009

Community Colleges Re-tooling to Serve Influx of Adult Learners

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Move over 18-year-olds. 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.

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. The survey found:

  • 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.

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 here

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