Community Colleges Put Baby Boomers Back in School

Lynn Russo Whylly's picture

In August, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) announced that eleven colleges had been chosen to join a national program that would train 10,000 baby boomers over the next three years for new jobs in health care, education, and social service. Called the Plus 50 Encore Completion Program, it is funded by a $3.2 million grant from the Deerbrook Charitable Trust. 2013 is year one, with a kick-off meeting scheduled in San Francisco in April. Community College Report spoke with representatives from three participating colleges about the benefits of the program to both the older generation and to the schools.


  • Kim Larson-Cooney, executive director of community and workforce programs, Arapahoe Community College (Colo.)
  • Michael Bankey, Ph.D., associate vice president for workforce and community services, Owens Community College (Ohio)
  • Robin D. Ambrozy, director, nontraditional programs, West Virginia University at Parkersburg (W.Va.)

Why is it important to focus on baby boomers?

KLC: There is a huge wave hitting the whole country, even internationally. Older people are staying in the workforce, and sometimes want to try something different after they retire.  The number of students 50-plus in our market has definitely increased. We have a lot of people that age in some of our small business non-credit classes. Also, our social media classes are bursting at the seams with people 50-plus.

MB: The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that people age 55 in the workforce will grow to 25 percent in 2020, from 13 percent in 2000. Here in Lucas County, 30 percent of our population is over 50.

RA: And the over 50 population has some of the best work ethic out there today. They’re the most reliable workforce.

The AACC chose health care, education, and social service as the areas of focus. What do you offer in those areas?

KLC: For this particular grant, we’ve selected an online program—an associate’s degree of applied science in health information technology, which prepares students to work in medical billing. Especially with the new health regulations coming up, there will be lots of changes with more and more categories, so this is going to be even more important in the future. With this degree, they will be accredited as a registered health information technician and can work in hospitals, at home, or as an independent contractor.

RA: Among many other programs, we offer a medical transcription program called health insurance customer service. That’s popular in our area because Blue Cross/Blue Shield has a large resource here. We also have a B.S. in Nursing.

How have you adapted your curriculum or services to accommodate the older student?

KLC: We’re providing mentors in person, on the phone and online. We’re looking at mentoring from two angles: one is success in the program, such as how to succeed in an online course. The second is career success—what it will take to help them find a job. We’ll also be working with AARP, who will be helping us find mentors, and with current students. We’ll be providing them with training on how best to mentor the older student population.

RA: Here in the valley, we have lost some major employers. We’ve opted to take some of the learning these people have gotten on the job and credential that by turning it into college credit. In addition to our traditional programs, we’re also offering international travel for college students, where they would get some humanities credit, and we’re looking at offering franchises. The over-50 population may not want to work for somebody else at this point in their lives, so we’re trying to give them some other options. In addition, we offer a support area called the Start Center. We provide complete end-to-end advisory service.  

MB: We’re creating an advisory board so we can accurately reflect the needs of the community. We have about a dozen people already committed, including key industry executives as well as representatives from enrollment services and financial aid. We will also have some volunteers who do public service  in the community.

How will your institution benefit from being part of this program?

KLC: What we learn here we feel will help with retention of our other students. We want to be able to take what we have learned and apply it to other programs on campus and to other community colleges, as well. We will have an advisory committee made of internal and external experts such as local employers to facilitate and guide this process.

MB: This is a new opportunity for us. Also, there are tens of thousands of job openings in our state. If we can serve as a resource to connect individuals with those jobs, then we’re benefiting our community.

RA: It’s not about us as much as it is the students. However, we do feel that once they get their foot in the door here, there’s no question for me that they will stay. It’s a good fit for students when they do come.

For a complete list of the 11 participating schools, or for more information on the program, go to: