If you are a Baby Boomer and you are thinking of going to college, you won’t be alone on campus.
“Last year we had over 300 students here on campus that were over the age of 50. Some were enrolled in degree programs and some were just here taking classes,” says Dawn Jones of the Office of Career and Transfer Services at Schenectady County Community College.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students over age 35 accounted for 17 percent of all college and graduate students in 2009, and that rate is expected to rise to 19 percent by 2020.
Baby Boomers sign up at SCCC for many different reasons, says Jones, a non-traditional career advisor.
“One is to update those skills to stay relevant in the workforce longer. They want to be working longer. And sometimes they need to be working longer just because of financial need.”
Some Boomers retire from one career and want to try a new one.
“They want to do something different. Or they want to give back, to find different ways to utilize some of the skills that they had in a way that’s meaningful and help others. Sometimes people may have been very successful in a career that they had and now they are retiring but they knew all along it wasn’t what they really wanted to be doing. They want to be doing things that are more important to them.”
For other Boomers, it’s a chance to be free and focus on themselves.
“Maybe they were too busy with family and other responsibilities and couldn’t do it before and now they have that opportunity,” Jones says
And then there are the people who lose their jobs when they are in their 50s or early 60s.
“They may have experienced a layoff and are having difficulty finding new employment,” she says. Education is a way “to get back into the workforce.”
See an advisor
If you are over 50 and hope to change careers or to enhance your skills, the first step is to get some help with decision-making, Jones says.
“I would definitely recommend sitting down with an advisor and talking about all the different options, someone who can assess what their strengths are, what their values are and what their passions are.”
SCCC recently completed a three-year grant program, the Plus 50 Initiative, to support and engage students age 50 and over. Organized by the American Association of Community Colleges, the program focuses on workforce training and preparing for new careers.
At SCCC, Jones can evaluate your skills based on what career you are interested in.
These could include Microsoft Office, customer service, data entry, typing, medical terminology or skills used in warehouses or manufacturing.
Another career and education planning tool, called Focus 2, looks not only at skills but your values and personality type.
Older students can also practice their interview skills.
“Sometimes it’s a mock interview in the office, where we are going through interview-related questions. We may even videotape that mock interview,” Jones says.
Robert Frederick, the director of SCCC’s Office of Career and Transfer Services, has developed a tool called speed networking in which students go through a simulation of all types of job-seeking situations with actual employers and those employers give the students relevant feedback.
“For some of our students, it’s been quite some time since they’ve had to use some of these skills. It can be very daunting to put yourself out there. We help them get more comfortable with it,” she says.
Social media skills, like Facebook and Twitter, are much less important than basic computer skills, Jones says.
“If you can log on and navigate the Internet to specific web sites, that’s the most essential piece, as well as being able to use email and basic word processing software. So many of our classes now require an online presence of some sort.”
Classes and programs that are popular with older students include human service-type fields, culinary and business.
“They want to move into management positions or maybe go into business for themselves,” she says.
Returning students must also decide whether they want a certificate program, “to get in and out quickly,” or a longer academic program that leads to an associate’s degree.
About a mindset
Is there an age when it’s too late to go to school or try a new career?
“It’s not about a number, it’s about a mindset. If it’s something you want to do and have the energy to do and you’re passionate about it,” Jones says.
“We’ve had students in their 60s and 70s, and I think we’ve even had a few older than that, taking classes and enrolled in degree programs. There’s no age limit, there’s no limit to what you can do if you want to be doing it,” she says.
“What I say often to my returning adults is ‘you’re never too old to decide what you want to be when you grow up.’ ”
Tips and resources
Thinking of going to school or starting a new career?
Dawn Jones in the Office of Career and Transfer Services at Schenectady County Community College offers these tips:
• Get information on classes/careers and sit down with an advisor.
• Make a plan and stick to it. Decide whether you want to take a few classes, earn a certificate or get a degree.
• Work on your basic computer skills.
• Work on your study skills. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek out people that can help you.
To receive career counseling at SCCC, one must be an alumnus or currently enrolled.
For others, Jones recommends the college’s community partners:
• The SUNY College and Career Counseling Center, first floor of Center City, 433 State St., Schenectady. 631-2257, [email protected] “Anyone in the community can go to get the same types of advisement and job search help,” Jones says.
• Schenectady County One Stop Center, Schenectady County Human Services building, 797 Broadway, Schenectady. 344-2735, www.schenectadycounty.com. “They are another great resource for jobs and training opportunities. There are people to help them to learn about what’s available and navigate the system,” says Jones.
On the Internet, check aout AARP’s career guide at www.aarp.org/work/career-change
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, [email protected] or on Twitter @bjorngazette.