By KERRY HANNON APRIL 3, 2015
For many, a retirement of babysitting grandchildren, golfing and relaxing on the beach is passé. Older people today approach work as a pillar of a retirement lifestyle, planning ahead and adding skills even before leaving their current jobs.
As demand for more adult learning opportunities accelerates, colleges and universities are trying to figure out how to tap into the market for second careers to bolster their revenue and perhaps build alumni loyalty. The potential audience is huge.
By 2030, the number of Americans 65 and older will grow to 72 million, up from 40.2 million in 2010, according to the United States Census Bureau. To date, colleges and universities have paid little attention to the needs of this population.
“It makes no sense, however, to have an educational system that ends in the 20s when people are likely to be working into their 80s,” said Laura L. Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. “We need to rethink these things.”
A Merrill Lynch study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, a research firm that focuses on aging, found that nearly three of every five working retirees said retirement was an opportunity to shift to a different line of work.
A survey by PNC Financial Services found that more than half of retirees 70 or younger retired before they had originally intended; 40 percent did so because of health-related issues and 26 percent because of layoffs, forced early retirement or other issues with their employers. Some of those reluctant retirees want, or need, to keep working in some fashion, but to get hired, they must first expand their skill set.
At George Washington University, 70 online and hybrid online-and-in-class degree and certificate programs provide opportunities to older adults, said Steven Knapp, the university president. “Our spring 2015 enrollment includes 868 students age 50 or older.,” he said. “Last fall we had 905 students aged 50 or older.”
“Each of our fellows wants to contribute to society in meaningful ways,” said Dr. Philip A. Pizzo, a former dean of the Stanford School of Medicine and founding director of the Stanford institute. “They are here to discover which areas capture their spirit and permit them to transition to something new.”
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.
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