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About Plus 50

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the AACC Plus 50 Initiative?
A: The Plus 50 Initiative is a project to benchmark and showcase the most current and innovative programs at community colleges that engage learners age 50 and over. Organized by the American Association of Community Colleges, the Plus 50 Initiative invests in community colleges to create or expand campus programs that engage the plus 50 student population, with a focus on workforce training and preparing for new careers.  To learn more, read our history and accomplishments

Q: What is the AACC Plus 50 Completion Strategy??
A 4-year project, the Plus 50 Completion Strategy involves 18 colleges focused on degree and certificate completion for plus 50 students, especially those with prior college credit. It was launched in 2010 with support from Lumina Foundation. It reached its goals 2 years early and is expanding outreach efforts to baby boomers seeking to complete a postsecondary education credential or degree. Read the Year 3 evaluation report.

Q: What is the AACC Plus 50 Encore Completion Program?
A: The most recent expansion of the Plus 50 Initiative is the Plus 50 Encore Completion Program. This program is reaching out to 100 community colleges across the country and is helping baby boomers earn high-value degrees or certificates in helping professions (education, health care, social services). The participating colleges offer workforce training programs that prepare older adults for careers such as medical technician, certified nursing assistant, teacher assistant, adult basic education instructor, human services specialist, and positions in other in-demand fields. Read the 2013 process and outcome evaluation report.

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 and work. 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? Will more colleges be added to the initiative?
A: Community colleges who submitted applications and went through a selection process are grantees of the Plus 50 Initiative. See college profiles. Applications are not currently being accepted for additional grantees.

Q: What is AACC?
A: As the voice of the nation’s community colleges, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) delivers educational and economic opportunity for 13 million diverse students. Uniquely dedicated to access and success for all students, AACC’s nearly 1,200 member colleges provide an on-ramp to degree attainment, skilled careers and family-supporting wages. Located in Washington, DC, AACC advocates for these not-for-profits, public-serving institutions to ensure they have the resources and support they need to deliver on the mission of increasing economic mobility for all. 

Q: How is the AACC Plus 50 Initiative funded?
A: The initiative has been funded over a period of several years with grants from The Atlantic Philanthropies, Lumina Foundation, and Deerbrook Charitable Trust.

Q: Will there be more grant-funding available through the Plus 50 Initiative?
A: Additional funding is not available at this time. Applications are not currently being accepted for additional grantees.

Q: Do you know of any new grants for plus 50 programs at community colleges?
A: As part of its work to aggregate and disseminate knowledge that can support Plus 50 programming, AACC sends a newsletter out every 2 weeks, and posts a variety of resources and information on its website including information on new grants available to community colleges from the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor and other federal and private sources. To subscribe to the Plus 50 Initiative bi-weekly Ageless Learning newsletter, please go to Newsletter.

AACC compiled the information found in Obtaining Financial Support for Plus 50 Programming to help guide plus 50 program administrators and advocates in developing grant applications. It describes the groundwork to cover before submitting grant applications, provides questions to consider in developing application content, and offers background information on the AACC Plus 50 Initiative to support the case for funding.

The Plus 50 Initiative webinar, Creating and Sustaining Your Program for Adult Learners is an additional resource.  The webinar recording and PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded on the Plus 50 Initiative website at Webinars.

Q: Why should my college become a plus 50-friendly college? Are there any benefits for us?
A: Many plus 50 adults are turning to community colleges to update their work skills and train for new careers. Yet students who are age 50 and up have unique needs and vary markedly from “traditional” college students. Educating yourself, your faculty, your staff, and your college about their unique needs and learning styles, and putting in place programs and supports that help plus 50 students be successful on campus will make your college “plus 50-friendly.” Simple measures can be taken by a college that will help relieve the anxiety that many older adults have about going to college later in life. These supports for plus 50 students will also increase completion rates and help students reach their educational goals earlier. See the Plus 50 Initiative: Standards of Excellence.

As the population trend of declining numbers of high school graduates continues 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. If you would like to get started, see these 12 tips to help community colleges.

Q: Who would you recommend for the Plus 50 Program Advisory Committee?
A: The Plus 50 Program Advisory Committee or Board is a 7–10 member group that meets quarterly to advise your plus 50 program on the direction and progress of your work. Committee 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. See How to Set Up a Successful Advisory Committee: Tips from Joliet Junior College, for helpful advice. Having an engaged and functional advisory committee is part of securing broad-based organization and institutional support, which is a standard of excellence for plus 50 programs. See Plus 50 Initiative: Standards of Excellence for more information on the standards.

Q: For those colleges now offering plus 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, consult the Plus 50 Needs Assessment Toolkit.

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 potential and current 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. For more information on how to conduct a needs assessment, please see Plus 50 Needs Assessment Toolkit and our tips on ongoing needs assessment and evaluation.

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 see 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. You may also find helpful our tips on providing learner support services.

Q: What kind of courses and training do plus 50 learners want?
A: According to the AACC Plus 50: Year One Evaluation report in 2009, Plus 50 Initiative colleges saw a shift in demand away from courses taken for personal interest, in favor of workforce training courses. The downturn in the economy, known as the Great Recession, prompted this shift, with plus 50 learners needing to enroll in classes that will help them find jobs.  We find that many baby boomers are pursuing jobs in health care, education, and social services because jobs in these fields are hiring and also provide a way for baby boomers to give back to the community and assist others.

Q: What is the 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 college 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. See Plus 50 Students: Tapping Into a Growing Market and our tips on providing learner support services and tips from Cape Cod Community College.

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 and provide transportation and alternative classroom venues to make courses more convenient and accessible. See our tips on providing learner support services.

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: Many colleges are tailoring instructional delivery (accelerated courses and programs, convenient schedule and pace, credit for prior learning, etc.) and providing professional development to instructors in an effort to ensure that pedagogy meets the learning needs of students who are age 50 and over. 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 Practices section on the Plus 50 Initiative website. See our tips on providing learner support services, which include links to presentations by college faculty on how to tailor instruction to the needs of plus 50 learners.

Q: What are the types of financial resources that are available to sustain a plus 50 program?
A: The 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: generating course revenue; applying for 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 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 college foundations as well.

Q: 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 see our Financial Aid Resources for plus 50 students.

Q: As a college, we're finding it difficult to make the transition from the "typical senior" student in the past, to the baby boomers of today and their vigorous needs. Do you have any advice for us?
A: Due to the current economic climate, plus 50 adults increasingly identified a need for workforce training and career development services. 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. You are encouraged to a conduct needs assessment to better understand the needs and interests of your 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, income levels, labor force participation, fastest growing occupational statistics, and employment and industry projections. 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. LFA developed a mixed-method evaluation design to collect both quantitative and qualitative data to assess the initiative and support continuous improvements. LFA Group has measured grantee college implementation progress, participant satisfaction, and captured lessons learned and promising practices from colleges. LFA’s reports have captured implementation successes and challenges, and provided significant information on factors contributing to the success of the Plus 50 Initiative. LFA’s work played a pivotal role in creating the Standards of Excellence to guide community colleges creating plus 50 programs.

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. A variety of marketing and public relations materials are available, and you can learn more about what colleges have done in  public relations and marketing.

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 relatively short period of time and worked with dozens of colleges. Its college grantees have greatly expanded their offerings to plus 50 students and been able to impact thousands of people.

The early colleges involved in the initiative learned a great deal about how colleges could better engage and support baby boomers, which are documented in The Plus 50 Initiative: Standards of Excellence.

In a 2012 published report, evaluators found that enrollment in courses associated with the Plus 50 program more than doubled, increasing by more than 15,000 students from baseline to the end of the program’s second year. During the first 3 years of the initiative, the number of workforce training courses that were targeted specifically to plus 50 students skyrocketed from 54 to 1,147—a 20-fold increase. Seventy-two percent of students agreed that their workforce training program had helped them get hired for a job. About 90% of plus 50 students in workforce training programs agree that their plus 50 courses have helped them acquire new skills or improve upon their current job skills.

A 2013 evaluation report of the Plus 50 Completion Strategy found that the 18 colleges participating in the initiative exceeded the program’s goals by serving 54% more plus 50 students in 3 years than initially planned. They also helped 50% more students’ complete degrees or certificates than initially planned, with 7,192 students age 50 and over reaching these milestones to improve their employability and careers. The report includes data on workforce courses, marketing and key supports assisting plus 50 students returning to college.