It’s that exciting time of year. Kids are heading off to school in their new duds with backpacks full of notebooks and lunch pails. But it turns out not only the young will be cracking books.
Plenty of baby boomers are going back to school as well. Some are enrolling to college for the first time.
“At 78 million strong, the baby boomer generation is bringing a surge of older students to campus,” states the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in its report “Plus 50 Students: Tapping Into a Growing Market.
What are the reasons for this trend? Unlike younger college students, trail-blazing baby boomers aren’t driven by anyone’s expectations other than their own, according to a survey by Schools.com. And, perhaps surprisingly, regret doesn’t seem to be a big factor either. Only about 15 percent of students aged 50 to 59 said they went back to school to complete a degree they previously started.
So, just why are baby boomers heading back to school?
To Update Skills
Many boomers are working longer. Studies show that up to 80 percent of baby boomers plan to do some sort of paid work until age 70 to stay mentally sharp, keep engaged socially, and achieve financial security in retirement. That leaves a couple of decades after 50 to work.
Whether boomers are working because of financial needs or personal choice, many go back to college for additional training so they can stay marketable in the workforce or advance their careers. Some are laid off and having difficulty finding employment. Updating their skills by going back to school seems like a step in the right direction.
Aside from motivation, baby boomers stand out from younger students in other ways. For example, most don’t care about social activities, campus life, and extracurricular activities. Many enroll in online or hybrid degree programs because of the lower cost and flexibility.
Many colleges have taken note of older students’ unique needs as they search for fast and efficient ways to further their education and careers. In fact, The American Association of Community Colleges introduced the Plus 50 Initiative in 2008 to help colleges learn how to provide what older students want. As a result, those over 50 usually can find plenty of flexibility with degree programs, online and weekend courses, and accelerated classes.
To Change Careers
Some baby boomers are pursuing an “encore career” and go back to school to prepare for a new direction in life. Whether boomers are retired and want to try out another career part-time or are still working and want to change jobs, many want to pursue their interests and passions before it’s too late.
In addition, as people age, they tend to want a career that’s fulfilling and meaningful to 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,” says Dawn Jones of the Office of Career and Transfer Services at Schenectady County Community College. “They want to be doing things that are more important to them.”
To Focus on Themselves
For those 50-59, the decision to return to school was often about finally having the freedom to explore a subject they love. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed in that age range said they enrolled in college to explore their passions. Compare that to those between 18 and 29 who were three times less likely to give that answer; they were more likely to say they enrolled in college as a logical next step in their lives.
The fact is that baby boomers are changing the way people age and many want to continue to grow and learn. Some become part of the continuing education department, taking classes to learn a new language or about astronomy. The idea is to learn for themselves rather than earn a degree. And why not? Many now have the freedom with less responsibilities to take advantage of opportunities.
Are you a baby boomer thinking about going back to college? Don’t let age stop you. It’s never too late to go back to school or try out a new career.
“It’s not about a number, it’s about a mindset,” Jones says. “If it’s something you want to do and have the energy to do and you’re passionate about it. 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.”
“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.'” Jones adds.