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About Plus 50

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the AACC Plus 50 Initiative?
A: The AACC Plus 50 Initiative is a three-year effort by a pilot group of two-year institutions to create or expand campus programs to engage the plus-50 population in learning, training/re-training programs; and/or volunteer, civic, service activities. The overall goal of the Initiative is to develop and promote community colleges as the primary places where plus-50s can learn, train, and find ways to contribute to their communities and society as a whole.

Q: What are the primary goals of the Plus 50 Initiative?
A: The overarching goal of the Plus 50 Initiative is to support community colleges’ ability to engage plus 50 learners through education, work, and service. To reach this goal, the initiative focuses on developing and expanding the program offerings of the grantee colleges, by striving to reach more plus 50 students, by expanding plus 50 offerings to additional community colleges, and by putting the interests of plus 50 students at community colleges on the public agenda.

Q: Who are the recipients of the Plus 50 Initiative grants?
A: Thirteen colleges are grantees of the Plus 50 Initiative, and each implements at least two of the three initiative tracks. The grantee colleges work within three-college teams: one mentor college matched with two demonstration colleges. These teams are designed so that they can share resources and support. Mentor colleges have more experience serving plus 50 students’ needs, and lend their experience to benefit demonstration colleges.

Q. Who are the Plus 50 Mentor Colleges?
A: A total of 5 Mentor Colleges have been selected to be part of the Plus 50 Initiative. Colleges receiving grants to serve as mentors for the program are:

Q: Who are the Plus 50 Demonstration Colleges?
A: A total of 8 Demonstration Colleges have been selected to be part of the Plus 50 Initiative. The 8 Demonstration colleges receiving grants are:

Q: Is it possible that additional colleges can be added to the Initiative?
A: In 2009 and 2010, the AACC Plus 50 Initiative announced expansion to include more community colleges. Reflecting changing economic circumstances for many older workers who thought they were poised for retirement but now must remain on the job, the new expansion focuses specifically on the Initiative’s training, retraining and career development area. The expansion pairs existing and more experienced Plus 50 colleges with dozens more community colleges that now become “affiliates” of the Plus 50 Initiative. To learn more about the Plus 50 Initiative expansion, please visit our Web site at
About Plus 50

Q: Who is AACC?
A: Since 1920, the AACC ( has been the leading advocate for the nation’s community colleges, which currently number more than 1,125 and serve more than 12 million students annually. Its membership comprises 95 percent of all public two-year colleges – the largest, most accessible, most diverse sector of U.S. higher education. As institutions committed to access, community service and lifelong learning, community colleges have long-focused on the needs of adults who are already in the workforce, many of whom are seeking new skills and knowledge for changes in their lives and careers.

Q: How is the AACC Plus 50 Initiative funded?
A: The initiative is funded with a $3.2 million grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies (

Q: Will there be more grant-funding available through Plus 50 Initiative?
A: Colleges selected through a competitive process received grants for a 3-year period. There will be no more grant funding available.

Q: Do you know of any new grants for plus 50 initiatives?
A: To learn how to identify the internal and external financial resources that are available to sustain a Plus 50 program, please refer to the Plus 50 Initiative webinar titled “Creating and Sustaining Your Program for Adult Learners.’ The webinar recording and PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded on the Plus 50 Initiative webinar site at
As part of its work to aggregate and disseminate knowledge that can support Plus 50 programming, AACC sends a newsletter out every two weeks, and posts a variety of resources and information on its Web site including information on new grants available to community colleges from the Department of Education, Department of Labor, Department of Energy, and other federal and private sources. To subscribe to the Plus 50 Initiative bi-weekly Ageless Learning newsletter, please go to

Q: Why should my college become a plus 50-friendly college? Are there any benefits for us?
A: As the number of high school graduates begins shrinking in some parts of the country, community colleges should consider reaching out to plus 50 learners who represent a growing demographic group of potential students. To successfully recruit and retain plus 50 students, community colleges must be willing to identify and address obstacles that these students face in pursuing further education. For more information about integrating the plus 50 learner into your community college, please refer to
Plus 50 Students: Tapping Into a Growing Market.

Q: Who would you recommend for the plus 50 Advisory Council?
A: The Plus 50 Program Advisory Council is a 7-10 member group that meets quarterly to advise your plus 50 program on the direction and progress of your work. Council members should include representatives from the education, training, and service areas of the college; the college’s public information officer; at least two community partners; and one student.

Q: For those colleges now offering 50+ curriculum/classes, what have been the most successful classes/topics?
A: Research into what older Americans want and need from college courses repeatedly shows that they have targeted objectives, usually with a utilitarian interest in gaining specific work-related skills as efficiently as possible. Plus 50 students are highly pragmatic and value accelerated program formats that help them go back to work. Plus 50 Initiative colleges offer a wide range of training programs and career services, including workshops in resume writing and job interviewing, computer refresher courses, and certificate programs that help students train for new careers, as well as job placement services and community partnerships with employers.
Colleges, however, should not make any assumptions about programming needs of the plus 50 population. Conducting a needs assessment is a must to plan your college’s programming for plus 50 learners. For more information on how to conduct a successful needs assessment please refer to
Plus 50 Needs Assessment Toolkit. This toolkit was developed to help community colleges conduct a needs assessment for the purposes of developing workforce training and career development programming for their local Plus 50 population. It provides a menu of options for data collection strategies.

Q: How do I find out what the needs of plus 50 Learners in my college’s service area are?
A: Complete a needs assessment of your plus 50 population. The needs assessment helps colleges identify the demand for specific services and helps staff learn about student interests and needs. It provides a foundation for future decision-making, effective planning, and appropriate action. It also enables staff to make the case for programs and services to their college’s leadership. Not only do the surveys and focus groups present valuable data for planning new programs of interest to students, but they also help potential students consider what types of courses they might like to take.

Q: How can my community college better accommodate its plus 50 learners?
A: Your college can accommodate plus 50 learners in a variety of ways: offer custom-tailored student services and advising, abbreviated schedules, seamless registration processes, student-centered and modular skill-focused curriculum, financial aid information, classroom support, credit for life experience, fast track industry-specific training, and much more.
To learn how to become a plus 50-friendly community college, please refer to the AACC’s publication titled
Plus 50 Students: Tapping Into a Growing Market.This publication describes what is drawing plus 50 students to community colleges and provides tips on effectively serving them.

Q: What kind of courses and training do plus 50 learners want?
A: According to the AACC Plus 50: Year One Evaluation report, Plus 50 Initiative colleges have seen a shift in demand away from courses taken for personal interest, in favor of workforce training courses. The downturn in the economy has prompted this shift, with plus 50 learners needing to enroll in classes that will help them find a job.
To learn more about the latest trends in plus 50 programming, please refer to section III, Overview of Course Offerings for
Plus 50 Students in AACC’s Plus 50: Year One Evaluation Report.

Q: What is most suitable advising that my college can provide to plus 50 learners?
A: Many plus 50 learners are out of their comfort zones, given that they may have been out of college for several decades, or have never attended college. To help these students navigate the college system and become familiar with the colleges’ offerings, Plus 50 colleges are implementing a variety of support services, including advising and counseling, concierge services, new student orientation, and a system for streamlined registration. For details, please read section II,
The Fundamentals of Plus 50 Programming in AACC’s Plus 50: Year One Evaluation Report.

Q: How can we integrate plus 50 learners into our campus?
A: Plus 50 learners may be unfamiliar with or nervous about returning to a campus environment. Some of these barriers include lack of awareness of the courses and activities geared to the plus 50 population, difficulties integrating into campus life, physical challenges (e.g. needing large print on handouts), and financial barriers. As part of their Plus 50 programs, colleges are implementing a variety of support services, including advising and counseling, concierge services, new student orientation, and a system for streamlined registration. To facilitate physical access to the college specifically for plus 50 students, colleges ensure physical comfort and accessibility, provide transportation and alternative classroom venues to make courses more convenient and accessible.

Q: How do we tailor instructional delivery to meet the needs of plus 50 students? Can you recommend methods and best practices to effectively meet these unique needs?
A: Program implementation is not simply a matter of offering enrichment and training courses, career services, and volunteering programs. High-quality program implementation also depends on how these offerings are put in place. Plus 50 Initiative colleges are tailoring instructional delivery (accelerated courses and programs, convenient schedule and pace, credit for life experience, etc) and providing professional development to instructors in an effort to ensure that pedagogy meets the learning needs of this age cohort.
To learn how to tailor courses to meet the needs of plus 50 learners, please refer to Section II, The Fundamentals of Plus 50
Programming in AACC’s Plus 50: Year One Evaluation Report.
To learn how the Plus 50 Initiative colleges tailor their programs and services for plus 50 students, visit the
Promising Practicessection on the Plus 50 Initiative Web site.

Q: What are the types of financial resources that are available to sustain a plus 50 program?
A: First step in ensuring program sustainability is assessing your current resources and determining the cost of offering plus 50 programs and services for your community college. Look at the resources available on your campus, including existing programs, staffing, facilities, and grants. Speak with colleagues about possible collaborations or seek feedback regarding your ideas. Some programs and grants may have the same mission and purpose as the Plus 50 program, so you may consider internal partnerships with other departments. Talk to community leaders to get a grasp of issues, priorities and possibilities and strive to form community partnerships. Turn to private foundations, local corporations, business and industry councils, state departments of education, and federal agencies. Look for other forms of support, too, including employer-paid tuition and financial arrangements that will underwrite part or all of the cost of tuition or course fees for students.

Q: How are colleges working toward sustainability? What are the challenges that they must overcome in order for their programs to outlive AACC funding?
A: Community colleges are actively working toward making their programs sustainable. These approaches include: course revenues; additional grants to pay for staff time and program activities; building an internal constituency at the college that supports the plus 50 program; institutionalizing program components as part of a college’s standard operations; writing the program into the college strategic plan and budget; and leveraging the work of partnerships.
Although external funding is currently tight, Plus 50 colleges routinely seek grants from public and private funders to support their programs. Several colleges that have a workforce training and career development track to their programs also reach out to their local workforce development boards about funding opportunities Colleges often are supported by grant-making from their own colleges’ foundations as well.

Q: Tell us what sources of financial aid are available to plus 50 learners?
A: For many displaced plus 50 workers, financing a return to community college may be challenging. While many scholarship opportunities target traditionally-aged students, financial aid isn't just for the young. For more information about types of financial aid available to older learners, please go the Students’ Section on the Plus 50 Web site at
Financial Aid Resources.

Q: We're finding it difficult to make the transition from the "typical senior" of days passed to the Boomers of today and their vigorous needs.
A: Due to the current economic climate plus 50 individuals have an increasing need for workforce training and career development. As the demand for workforce training courses at community colleges grew, colleges responded by shifting their program emphasis to workforce training. Economies vary from area to area, and so do in-demand occupations. Your college has to conduct needs assessment to better understand the needs and interests of the local plus 50 population. Using the results of these assessments, you will be able to better understand how to tailor your offerings to plus 50 students.
Look at census data, demographics, labor force participation, fastest growing occupation statistics, employment projections, data from the State Department of Professional Regulation, etc. Use other available techniques: direct observation, questionnaires, surveys, consultation with persons in key positions, interviews, and focus groups. Perform an environmental scan of plus 50 programs and services available at other community organizations in your area. Conduct community mapping to assess unmet needs and resources available locally.

Q: How is the Plus 50 Initiative evaluated?
A: To assist in this effort, AACC engaged LFA Group as an independent, outside evaluator of the Plus 50 Initiative for the three-year period. LFA developed a mixed-method evaluation design to collect both quantitative and qualitative data to assess the initiative and support continuous improvements over the course of the three-years. LFA Group measured grantees colleges’ implementation progress, participant satisfaction, and captured lessons learned and promising practices in the first year of the initiative. LFA’s report captures implementation successes and challenges and provides information on factors contributing to the success of the Plus 50 Initiative in year one to facilitate program implementation or standards of excellence for use by other community colleges. The year two evaluation is currently underway.

Q: What is the best way to market Plus 50 programs?
A: Plus 50 colleges are using a wide variety of marketing and outreach efforts to raise the visibility of Plus 50 programming and attract students to the campus, and these strategies include but are not limited to media coverage, websites, blogs, electronic newsletters, college catalogues, brochures, fliers, posters, banners, open houses and community outreach.
Some Plus 50 colleges capitalized on the experiences of plus 50 students to tell the story of their programs and/or services to raise awareness about the college plus 50 programming. Through student blogs, student videos, and word of mouth, more plus 50 students connect to community colleges. Hearing the stories from and about plus 50 students helps others to envision themselves as students at the college, and to feel excited and encouraged about the new possibilities of participating in community college programming.

Q: What are the factors contributing to the success of the Plus 50 Initiative?
A: The Plus 50 Initiative has been extraordinarily successful in a very short period of time. Its grantees have greatly expanded their offerings to plus 50 students. Some factors that contribute to Plus 50’s success are:
?Plus 50 offerings are tailored to the needs, interests, and objectives of the plus 50 population.

  • Faculty and staff receive professional development that provides them with the skills they need to teach courses and provide services that effectively meet the needs of plus 50 students.
  • Plus 50 offerings are marketed in such a way that does not appeal to a student’s identity as a “senior”.
  • To attract plus 50 students to campus, colleges publicize student stories.
  • Colleges set up a Plus 50 Advisory Committee to help develop programming and to support sustainability efforts, and ensure that it includes community partners, as well as people who have expertise with this age group.
  • To help ensure sustainability, program staff seek to build an internal constituency for Plus 50 programming at their college.