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Colleges reaching out to boomers

Resource type: News

Dallas Morning News |

By Bob Moos

Downsized and depressed, Leigh Hoes was approaching 50 and won-dering what to do with the rest of her work life.

Then one day, as she leafed through a course catalog that had arrived in the mail from RichlandCollege in Dallas, the idea came to her.

Why not work in a pharmacy, dispensing prescriptions?

After all, she thought, a health-care career had always appealed to her, the job was fairly recession-proof, and she could train for it in just one year.

Like many other baby boomers, the food technology specialist turned to a commu-nity college for help in changing careers. She enrolled in one of Richland’s health professions certificate programs.

Today, at 51, Hoes is a pharmacy technician at ParklandMemorialHospital, filling prescriptions and waiting on customers.

I’ve found my niche, she said. I see myself working in health care into my 60s and maybe 70s.

Four in five boomers have told pollsters they intend to work past their traditional retirement age, and many want to find new jobs with a higher social purpose and more flexible hours.

Labor analysts, meanwhile, predict the U.S. economy will face shortages of 6 million workers by 2012 and 35 million workers by 2030. The hardest-hit fields will be education, health care and public service.

The two trends present a historic opportunity for community colleges, said Judy Goggin, a vice president for Civic Ventures, a think tank that’s helping people reinvent themselves in the second half of life.

Community colleges have typically been nimble at adapting their curriculum to new work-force demands, she said.

The time’s right for developing programs for boomers trying to launch the next phase of their working lives and for employers faced with a brain drain over the next couple of decades, Goggin said.

One community college that educators say is emerging as a national model for ca-tering to boomer students is Richland, which is part of the Dallas County Community Col-lege District.

Richland was among the first to reach out to retirees and is now in the vanguard of schools helping students in midlife, said Norma Kent, an executive with the American Association of Community Colleges.

The college’s Emeritus program for retirees began in 1989 with 150 seniors and has since grown to more than 4,000 enrollments in daytime classes that teach everything from computer skills to genealogy.

We realize that boomers aren’t the same as their parents, so we’ve built a curriculum around their biggest concerns, said Mitzi Werther, director of the college’s Emeritus and Boomer Reboot programs.

About 1,400 of Richland’s 15,000 students are between 40 and 60, and college of-ficials say they hope that number will increase as the school offers more boomer-oriented courses and steps up its marketing.

The median age for a community college student is now 28.

Only about 30 community colleges nationwide have programs aimed at students 50 and older, and most are for retirees rather than boomers, said Kent from the American As-sociation of Community Colleges.

The association recently received a $3.2-million grant from the Atlantic Philanth-ropies to spur the development of more boomer programs at 15 yet-to-be-named colleges across the country.

The group’s boomer initiative dovetails a similar partnership between Civic Ventures and the MetLife Foundation to prepare midlife students for second careers in education, health care and social services.

CollinCollege in Allen, Texas, was among 10 schools nationwide to get $25,000 grants from the partnership last summer.

Goggin from Civic Ventures said boomers who enroll in community college pro-grams expect a clear path to employment after graduation.

They don’t want to jump through a lot of hoops, she said.

Beyond offering personal enrichment courses and career retraining programs, community colleges could play a big role in teaching boomers the skills to become useful community volunteers, Kent said.

The moment for community colleges is now, Kent said. They’re the logical place to help boomers find new purpose in life.

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United States


American Association of Community Colleges, Civic Ventures