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Boomers Go Back to School

June 13, 2008 By: Category: Nontraditional programs, The Nontraditional Student

A master’s degree at 52? Taking art history classes at 65? These ages don’t sound like the traditional college student, but then again, baby boomers are never the type to stick to tradition. Baby boomers are conventionally defined as anyone born between 1946 and 1964, and the U.S. Census estimates more than 75 million people fall into this generation. Yet as their age increases, more and more boomers are bucking retirement and hitting the books. 

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 An AARP survey found that older adults view lifelong learning as a way to “keep up with what’s going on in the world,” as well as an outlet for personal growth and to experience the joy of learning. The increased ability of online classes, degree programs and entire universities allows the education process to expand beyond the classroom walls to reach an entirely new realm of nontraditional students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 33% of the adults taking classes between 2004 and 2005 were enrolled in online courses. The Internet gives education a unique flexibility that allows boomers with jobs, families and other commitments to still pursue a variety of educational options. 

These continuing education programs are also stocked with resources to help boomers get back into the school swing. Dr. Carol Drake, the executive director of one such continuing education program at the University of Colorado at Boulder describes the commitment to the nontraditional (i.e. not 18-22 year-old) college student. “We are aware of the challenges a nontraditional student faces,” Drake says. “We offer a variety of help to make things easier, from financial aid advisors to career counselors to academic advising.” 

Boomers are returning to the classroom for a variety of reasons. Some begin second careers, while others are delving into further study of their existing field. Yet for many baby boomers, classes are an opportunity to pursue new interests. One study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics discovered more than 12.4 million people aged 55 or older took “personal-interest courses” during a 12-month period in 2004 and 2005. Personal interest courses usually last for about six weeks and are not taken for credit. Designed especially for busy adults, popular personal interest courses include career exploration, nutrition for healthy living, and art or language classes. Dental hygienist and baby boomer Susan Cocallas has been taking several evening and online courses for the past three years at the university in her hometown. “I’m not interested in getting a new degree or the stereotypical college experience, I did that when I was in college,” Cocallas explains. “This time around, I want to study subjects I’m really excited about, like “Beginning Italian” before I travel to Italy this summer.” 

So, the bottom line is: It’s not too late to go back to school. If you are bored with your career or if a retirement full of shuffleboard and bridge games just doesn’t appeal to you, you might want to think about pursuing a new degree. And (shameless plug), if you want to find a program that’s right for you, check out the myUsearch college search site.