Making Changes to Better Serve Plus-50 Students Seeking Workforce TrainingMary Sue Vickers | Plus 50 Initiative Program Director, American Association of Community Colleges
Community colleges throughout the country are assisting adults aged 50 and over coming to campus to update their workplace skills and train for new careers. But these non-traditional students have special needs and many colleges find just a few simple adjustments can ease their pathway back into higher education.
Sometimes the greatest barriers to plus-50 students entering college are themselves. Some carry fears about technology, are anxious because it’s been decades since they were in a classroom or worry their age will make them stand out. “It’s communicating to people a message of hope that allows them to not be afraid to come in the door and start learning,” said one college staff member.
It’s important for colleges to address these fears with messaging that addresses baby boomers. Using photos on the college website and in materials that include people who are non-traditional students can go a long way to sending a message of openness. We have seen colleges use print ads, radio ads, community fairs, plus-50 career tours and a host of other marketing strategies to talk with this target group.
Many colleges back up that messaging by offering learner support services tailored to the needs of baby boomer learners. Some have revisited their admissions policies and procedures to streamline access for students who matriculated from high school before the digital era and may not have ready access to high school transcripts.
Plus-50 students are often very focused on getting through college training programs quickly so they can get on the job right away. Academic advising is especially important for those who may need to carefully map out a course plan to ensure they have prerequisites in sequence while working toward a certificate or degree.
Many are also juggling the demands of family and home while pursuing additional workforce training or education. It’s important for college advisors to be able to guide these students to programs that can accommodate their varied schedules and lead to employment. Advising that recognizes these needs can go a long way to ensuring these students reach their goals. Designating a plus-50 advisor or plus-50 concierge, as some campuses have done, helps baby boomers get customized advice for their needs.
College tours also help plus-50 students acclimate to campus and explore career training possibilities. One campus offers a tour specifically for health care career opportunities, helping baby boomers see what options are available. Another campus publishes a comprehensive to-do list for plus-50 students in a guidebook. The book offers information about financial aid, public transportation, acronym definitions and instructions on how to enroll.
Offering learner-centered programming that takes into account the strengths baby boomers bring to the classroom can help them succeed academically. These students have significant life experiences they can share that enhance the classroom environment and learning for all ages.
Providing professional development for faculty on generational learning styles can help instructors design classroom instruction that meets the needs of plus-50 students and other generations in the classroom. Some colleges have offered workshops or training for faculty and instructors on generational learning styles. One college has developed a bibliography of resources on the unique needs of adult learners shared on the college’s intranet for faculty and staff to consult.
Offering credit for life experiences can shorten the amount of time it takes for many plus-50 students to earn a credential. Prior learning portfolio reviews, College Level Examination program (CLEP) exams and national certification exams help students start their program with credits already earned. This can be a significant motivator for plus-50 students who are striving to complete a degree or certificate in a limited amount of time and get back to work or change careers.
Flexible scheduling, with classes offered in the evenings or on a Saturday, can allow plus-50 students to maintain employment while working toward a certification or degree goal. We’ve also seen colleges revise certification programs to increase labor market competitiveness. One college revised a medical office certification program from two years to one, allowing students to get back to work more rapidly.
Author Perspective: Association