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With tailored programs, community colleges can help baby boomers train for new careers.
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Lifelong learning is not only a means of enrichment. In today’s economy, it can be a key to survival. Virginia’s community college system plays a vital role in the state’s workforce development system, both for younger workers and those who need to update their skills or transition to new careers.
Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke and Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville are taking that mission one step further by launching programs specifically designed to help students 50 and older transition to new careers. Leah Coffman, Virginia Western’s coordinator for workforce solutions, aptly described the initiative’s target market as “ageless learners” in a recent story by Roanoke Times reporter Andy Soergel.
Virginia Western and Patrick Henry received grants from the American Association of Community Colleges’ Plus 50 Encore Completion Program, a national initiative to train baby boomers for new jobs in health care, education and social services. The grants will help the schools restructure operations to accommodate specific needs of older learners and start them on a path to completing degrees or certificates.
Baby boomers can face daunting barriers to earning degrees or certificates that are needed to transition to new careers in high-demand fields. The Plus 50 program aims to change the way community colleges deliver programming and services to the boomer population. Virginia Western will help older students navigate the enrollment process and begin its Plus 50 program in October with basic refresher courses to prepare them for training, certification and degree programs.
The Plus 50 initiative was launched in 2008 at 15 community colleges and has expanded to 88 campuses across the country. Interest in the program grew when the economy collapsed and out-of-work boomers wanted to return to school to retrain for new careers. Virginia Western and Patrick Henry were two of 36 colleges selected for the program’s latest expansion, which is funded by a $3.2 million grant from the Deerbrook Charitable Trust.
The local colleges will have access to marketing resources designed to reach baby boomers, and they will be able to draw on the experience of schools that already have implemented Plus 50 programs. There’s no doubt that demand exists in Southwest and Southside Virginia for this kind of initiative. Ageless learners should have opportunities to thrive, even at the back ends of their careers.
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