Community Colleges Offer Baby Boomers Hope in Hard Times

Richland College Participates in National Conference for Plus 50 Initiative

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The baby boomer generation may be faced with dwindling retirement accounts, an economy in distress and a stiff job market, but America’s plus 50 adults have an advocate on their side – community colleges. Community college staff, including Mitzi Werther, Director Emeritus Program and Teresa Love, Outreach Coordinator of Richland College recently attended the second annual conference for the Plus 50 Initiative at the headquarters for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

The resources and strategies fostered by the Plus 50 Initiative can’t come soon enough. Enrollments are soaring at community colleges around the country, with students seeking to train for new careers, upgrading their skills to better match job prospects or trying to “recession-proof” their resumes by acquiring new skills.

At Richland College, based in Dallas, Texas staff members are reaching out to help baby boomers by providing resources to help those in job or career transition.

“Our college offers specialized re-training opportunities as well as customized courses to help plus 50 students improve their computer skills. “One idea we brought back from the conference is to have a special set of student advisors designated to assist our plus 50 students.

They were joined at the conference by more than 35 community college representatives from around the country. Empowered with a web site to foster resource-sharing, an evaluation team that tracks their progress, and communications help, the pioneering colleges in the initiative are developing and benchmarking models for innovative programs reaching students over age 50.

Their efforts are part of a three-year, nationwide initiative launched in 2008 by AACC with funding support from The Atlantic Philanthropies. The initiative announced its expansion from 15 campuses to dozens of additional affiliates in June 2009. Organizers at AACC and the colleges also re-tooled their efforts to focus more tightly on helping baby boomers cope with a rocky economy as the recession worsened.

Demonstration colleges involved with the Plus 50 Initiative are: Clover Park Technical College (Lakewood, Wash.), Joliet Junior College (Joliet, Ill.), Luzerne County Community College (Nanticoke, Pa.), Northern Virginia Community College (near Washington, D.C.), Richland College of the Dallas County Community College District (Texas), Santa Fe Community College (Gainesville, Fla.), St. Louis Community College (St. Louis, Mo.), Wake Technical Community College, (Raleigh, N.C.) and Western Dakota Technical Institute (Rapid City, S. D.)

Mentor colleges involved with the Plus 50 Initiative are: Cape Cod Community College (West Barnstable, Mass.), Central Florida Community College (Ocala, Fla.), Century College (White Bear Lake, Minn.), Clark College (Vancouver, Wash.) and Community College of Spokane (Wash.)

Affiliate colleges joining the initiative due to the program expansion announced in June 2009 are: Metropolitan Community College- Longview in Lee’s Summit, Mo. (partnered with St. Louis Community College); Rose State College in Midwest City, Okla. (partnered with Central Florida Community College), and Moraine Valley Community College in Illinois (partnered with Joliet Junior College).

The Plus 50 Initiative’s reach is expanding. As many as 30 additional colleges in Washington and Oregon will attend a conference hosted by area Plus 50 Initiative colleges. Nine Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., community colleges will partner with Century College in a regional meeting, including: Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Anoka Technical College, Dakota County Technical College, Hennepin Technical College, Inver Hills Community College, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Normandale Community College, North Hennepin Community College and Saint Paul College.

Additional community colleges from North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana are expected to attend a conference being planned by Western Dakota Technical Institute to foster plus 50 student programs that lead to career opportunities at national parks.

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For 89 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, most diverse sector of U.S. higher education. As institutions committed to access, community service and lifelong learning, community colleges have long-focused on the needs of adults who are already in the workforce, many of whom are seeking new skills and knowledge for changes in their lives and careers.

To learn more about the Plus 50 Initiative, visit plus50.aacc.nche.edu. To learn more about the AACC and The Atlantic Philanthropies, visit www.aacc.nche.edu and www.atlanticphilanthropies.org.