Community College Program Focuses on Helping Students Over 50 Find Jobs and Thrive

By Lisa Holton

Career consultants often urge 50-somethings to head back to college so they can learn skills that will make them stronger job candidates, especially in the current economy, with the unemployment rate for Americans 55-and-up a steep 6.2 percent.

If you're ready to follow that advice, the Plus 50 Initiative, an innovative, four-year-old program organized by the American Association of Community Colleges and offered at 25 community colleges around the country (see list below), could be the ideal ticket.

Participating colleges offer training and retraining programs as well as career development designed to teach students over 50 how to navigate the job front – and thrive.

“Either by choice or by necessity, many of us won’t be ready to leave the workplace anytime soon,” says Mary Sue Vickers, Plus 50's program director.

So far, the results are impressive.

In a study released earlier this year, 72 percent of Plus 50 students said their community college program helped them get hired; 90 percent reported that they acquired new skills or improved old ones.

Annette Stringer of Bolingbrook, Ill., lost her job auditing auto and homeowners’ claims at an insurance company in 2007. She says she took Plus 50 courses at nearby Joliet Junior College to update her resume and improve her interviewing skills. As a result, she qualified for her current position in medical billing and coding at Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital.

“The program gives you an opportunity to meet with people in your own age group," says Stringer. "It’s important to know that you’re not the only person your age in this situation. I’ve become good friends with a couple of women in the program.”

In the classroom and online, the options available to Plus 50 students include workforce courses, which help participants freshen resumes and presentation skills and otherwise prepare themselves for new jobs or careers. (There are now 1,147 of these classes nationwide, up from 54 in 2008.) There are also refresher courses and workshops in computers, math and English.

Each of the 25 participating colleges tailors Plus 50 classes to support the particular workplace needs of its community. All have advisory committees with representatives from local businesses and organizations serving the plus-50 population.

For example, if there’s a higher-than-average demand for health care or skilled factory workers in the area, the community college offering the Plus 50 program will build a curriculum to fit that need. At Joliet Junior College, students are currently gravitating to coursework that will lead to nursing assistant certification or provide the training for commercial driving licenses.

The participating colleges also provide students with volunteering opportunities. Some 84 percent of Plus 50 grads who took advantage of that option said they learned new skills; 64 percent said volunteering paved the way to exploring new career paths.

Below is a list of Plus 50 community colleges, with links to their programs; Plus 50 expects to expand to 100 schools in the near future. Satellite campuses are added to this list regularly.

The Plus 50 Community Colleges:

Anne Arundel Community College – Arnold, Md.

Atlantic Cape Community College – Mays Landing, N.J.

Cape Cod Community College – West Barnstable, Mass.

Century College – White Bear Lake, Minn.

Clark College – Vancouver, Wash.

Clover Park Technical College – Lakewood, Wash.

College of Central Florida – Ocala, Fla.

Dawson Community College – Glendive, Mont.

Hazard Community and Technical College – Hazard, Ky.

Joliet Junior College – Joliet, Ill.

LaGuardia Community College - New York, N.Y.

Luzerne County Community College – Nanticoke, Pa.

Monroe Community College – Rochester, N.Y.

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College – Green Bay, Wisc.

Northeastern Junior College - Sterling, Colo.

Pasco-Hernando Community College – New Port Richey, Fla.

Portland Community College – Portland, Ore.

Prince George’s Community College – Largo, Md.

Richland College – Dallas

Rose State College – Oklahoma City

Santa Fe College – Gainesville, Fla.

Shoreline Community College – Shoreline, Wash.

Spoon River College – Canton, Ill.

St. Louis Community College – St. Louis, Mo.

University of Alaska – Anchorage Community and Technical College – Anchorage, Alaska

Westchester Community College – Valhalla, N.Y.

Wiregrass Georgia Technical College – Valdosta, Ga.

(This piece originally ran on Next Avenue.)

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