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Encore U: It’s Never Too Late To Go To College

Here is a figure that may stun you: The number of Americans who are 55 and older will grow to 112 million by 2030, according to the United States Census Bureau. That is an increase from 76 million today. Viewed another way, the population of Americans age 55 and older will double in the next 25 years.

Marc Freedman views this increase in the number of older adults as an opportunity to help them engage in solving key national and global problems such as those in education and health care. So he founded an organization called Encore.org.

Encore.org promotes what they Freedman calls “second acts for the greater good.” He puts his vision this way: “Encore.org is building a movement to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world.” To bring that vision into reality, Encore U is a key part of Encore.org. Encore U is an expanding group of colleges and universities that help provide the knowledge, skills, and attributes that older Americans need to have new careers. These new careers, vocational or avocational, are intended to bring older Americans lasting satisfaction and also help address pressing social needs in their communities. Even five years ago, a national study found that the adult-education market will be the fastest-growing one in higher education for the foreseeable future.

Encore movement leaders at their conference in Arizona.

Encore movement leaders at their conference in Arizona.

Here are a few examples of Encore U campuses and how they are helping to prepare older adults for new careers:

Arizona State University: A collaboration of offices at Arizona State University offers a workshop for older adults who want to explore social entrepreneurship.

Grand Rapids Community College: This campus has created an Older Learner Center to meet the educational needs of older men and women in its community through public events and training programs. For example, they provide health education programming that is funded by the Kent County Senior Millage. These services benefit local residents age 60 and over.

Harold Washington College: The Step One: Teaching and Learning course at Harold Washington College in Illinois recruits and trains individuals who are 50 and older with master’s degrees as adjunct instructors and tutors. The elders are then hired across the seven City Colleges of Chicago system.

Pace Unviersity: The Encore Transition Program at Pace University aids professionals make the transition from midlife careers to new careers. It helps participants define their interests, understand transitions, and meet local leaders. Its training helps participants navigate the next chapter of their lives.

Portland State University: This University offers an online professional certificate program in social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and design thinking. A special outreach effort recruits older adults though collaborations with organizations serving those adults.

Stanford University: The Stanford Distinguished Career Institute provides opportunities for established leaders from both the public and private sectors to reflect on their life journeys and explore new pathways that will re-energize them and help serve the common good. In addition to pursuing a scholarly pathway, auditing courses and engaging in intergenerational learning and teaching, DCI also offers an opportunity for health and wellness recalibration. The goal is to combine new life directions with a healthier lifestyle. The Institute recently selected its first cohort of fellows that includes investment bankers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, corporate executives, a public art planner, and a filmmaker. Starting in January 2015, the fellows will engage in a special set of programs, take audit courses on campus, and meet regularly with a faculty mentor.*

Encore U is headed by Barbara Vacarr, former president of Goddard College in Vermont. Previously, she helped establish a center for adult learning at Lesley University, while teaching there.

John W. Gardner, the renowned writer and statesman, once wrote that, “We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” The explosion of older Americans is one of those seemingly “insoluble problems.” We can ignore the problem until it gets too big to handle. Or we can work collaboratively with older adults, with our colleges and universities, and with organizations in need of help – to promote encore careers that give elders deep satisfaction while helping to meet pressing needs in our society.

* Tom Ehrlich is a mentor and advisor to Stanford Distinguished Career Institute’s program.

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