“You must be prepared to hear, ‘How old will you be when you finish?’ a number of times. I learned to answer this one with a quip, ‘The same age I’ll be if I don’t finish!’” —Nancy B. Irwin, PsyD, C.Ht, after going back to school at age 44 and ultimately receiving her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology

The first day of school this year dawned sunny and warm. Even though it’s been nearly two decades since I sent anyone off to begin a new school year, I still find the first day of school exciting in a way. The route I take on my morning jog goes past a corner where a less than enthusiastic group of middle-schoolers waits for the bus. Slouched over their phones with earbuds firmly in place, none of them seems to have the strength to stand and wait.  They sprawl out on the sidewalk and one boy even lays down, snoozing on the concrete. “Good morning!” I say brightly as I approach the corner. “Hope y’all have a great year!”  Very slowly they drag their eyes off their devices and look at me in utter confusion, as if I’m speaking to them in Martian. A couple of them shake their heads as I sail by. The kid who was sleeping frowns. Immediately, they return to their screens.

While this group clearly wasn’t looking forward to starting a new academic year, there is a group that is happily heading back to the classroom in droves.  The National Center for Education Statistics reports that more baby boomers than ever are going back to school. As a whole, the baby boom generation has a great respect and love for lifelong learning and has found that there are many benefits to continuing education.

If you are one of the many boomers who is still working and plans to work well past the traditional retirement age, you may want to pursue a degree (or a second degree?) in order to advance your career or perhaps find a new one. Taking advanced courses could also sharpen your current skill set and help you stay on top of the latest practices in your profession.

After you retire, you finally have the time to do the things you’ve always wanted to, but never had the chance. Now would be a great time to enroll in or simply audit a college course on a topic that has always interested you. Taking a couple of college courses could also be key to staying mentally active in retirement.  It’s a good way to stay busy and a nice break from endless rounds of golf or watching TV all day.

Is going back to school or earning a degree on your bucket list? Continuing education classes can provide the opportunity to pursue your dreams and give you a sense of accomplishment.  Even if you’re not going for a diploma, you’re still learning something new and growing from it.

As an added bonus, continuing education could make it easier for you to keep up with your kids, grandkids or any of those young millennials in your life.

So how do you get started? There are many different options available:

Community College

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the number of students over the age of 50 enrolled in community colleges has grown steadily in the last decade. Currently, people in this age group make up approximately five to six percent of the total community college population across the country.

To help colleges accommodate their more mature learners, the AACC introduced the Plus 50 Initiative in 2008. The program initially focused on lifelong learning, enrichment, volunteering, civic engagement and some workforce training.  It has since evolved and now concentrates primarily on workforce training. To learn more about how you could benefit from a Plus 50 Program, check out this website: http://plus50.aacc.nche.edu/Pages/Default.aspx.

Online Courses

Boomers appreciate flexibility and are looking for alternative learning options that will allow them time for their jobs, grandkids and the other things they love. Online courses make that possible. Even better, the majors that boomers most often select work especially well as online programs, such as business or finance, computer science, technology, psychology and education.

Although online degrees are now offered by some of the most highly-rated schools in the country, some people still believe an online degree is less valuable than a traditional degree.  But not boomers. Among those 55 or older recently surveyed by schools.com, 40 percent felt an online degree was as valuable and valid as a traditional degree, while an additional 30 percent said the degree is what matters, not where it came from.

Discounted/Free College Courses

Perhaps taking a college course in the traditional way, on a campus and in a lecture hall, is more your style and something you’ve always dreamed of.  Then go for it!  Just remember, college courses cost money and tuition is expensive.

In the interest of continuing education, many colleges and universities now offer reduced or free college tuition to adults, typically 60 and up, although the rules vary. I live in Texas where a senior student attending the University of Texas at Austin, for example, could earn a degree for free if they only take six credit hours per semester and maintain a 2.0 GPA. Find out what continuing education options your state may have.

You never outgrow being a student of life. So why not grab your backpack, get excited about school again and start on the path to lifelong learning today!

Marcia Janssen
Executive VP – Legacy Division

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