About Plus 50 Initiative
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.
Since 2008, the program has given grants to 138 community colleges, which collectively enrolled 37,494 plus 50 students in workforce development programs. The program’s impact on students has been significant, with 12,192 baby boomers completing a degree or certificate since 2010–2011. Read Plus 50 Programs in Practice: How AACC’s Plus 50 Initiative is Helping Community Colleges Transform Programs and Services for Adults Age 50 and Over.
Preparing Baby Boomers for High-Value Careers That Give Back: The Plus 50 Encore Completion Program
The most recent initiative expansion, the Plus 50 Encore Completion Program, reached out to 100 community colleges across the country and is helping 10,000 baby boomers earn high-value degrees or certificates in fields that give back and are hiring (education, health care, social services). With many adults age 50 and over out of work or seeking to transition to a new career, the program offers skill updates and career makeovers.
The participating colleges offer workforce training programs that prepare older adults for careers, such as early childhood educators, certified nursing assistants, substance abuse counselors, adult basic education instructors, human resources specialists, and positions in other in-demand fields.
This project tripled in size the Plus 50 Initiative to 100 community colleges from 2012 to 2015. Funding from the Deerbrook Charitable Trust supports this expansion. The grant funding provides these plus 50 colleges with tools and resources, funds and expertise needed to build successful plus 50 programs. Read the 2014 evaluation report.
The Plus 50 Completion Strategy
A 4-year project, the Plus 50 Completion Strategy involved 18 colleges and focused on degree and certificate completion for plus 50 students, especially those with prior college credit. It was launched in 2010 with support from the Lumina Foundation and by leveraging funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies.
The colleges participating in the initiative reached their goals 2 years ahead of schedule, and continued to assist plus 50 adults in finishing degrees and postsecondary credentials. The colleges involved in the program nearly doubled the number of workforce training courses available for baby boomers in the second year of the project.
The 18 colleges participating in the initiative assisted 20,514 baby boomers participating in workforce training programs and inspired 8,877 (43% of the program participants) to complete degrees or credentials to improve their employability. Read the evaluation report.
Students age 50 and over participating in the program completed 2,135 degrees, 1,294 credit certificates, and 5,448 non-credit certificates. They completed programs in a variety of fields, including accounting, agriculture, business administration, computer science, criminal justice, culinary arts, education, health information technology, human services information technology, medical assisting, nursing, pharmacy technology, phlebotomy, surgical technology, and welding.
The staff at the colleges credit their success to tailoring programs and services to meet the unique needs of baby boomers. Approximately 5,892 students worked with completion coaches or advisors to help them reach their goals. Financial aid support also played a role in assisting 3,578 students. Career development workshops assisted 2,697 students.
The focus on completing degrees, certificates, or not-for-credit credentials in high-value occupations was a key part of the strategy, because education credentials will be needed for the jobs of the future.
The most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that from 2012 to 2022, occupations that usually require a post-secondary certificate or associate’s degree are projected to account for nearly 44% of all job growth and over one third of total job openings. See year 1 evaluation results, issued in 2011.
This project links to national higher education efforts to support college completion. AACC signed a public pledge in 2010 to promote the development and implementation of policies, practices, and institutional cultures that will produce 50% more students with high-quality degrees and certificates by 2020.
Expansion to Additional Colleges & Re-Tooling to Focus on Workforce Training
The economic recession hit immediately after the Plus 50 Initiative program launched and put thousands of baby boomers out of work for lengthy periods of time. People age 50 and over wanted to come back to college and retrain quickly for new careers so they could improve their job skills and get back to work.
The colleges and organizers quickly re-tooled the program in 2009 from its broader three-pronged focus areas and zeroed in on helping people age 50 and over prepare for new jobs and careers at community colleges—because that’s where the need was in communities across the country. This first expansion welcomed an additional 12 colleges to the initiative.
A second expansion in 2010 paired existing and more experienced Plus 50 colleges as learning partners with 32 new community colleges that became affiliates of the Plus 50 Initiative.
Other experienced colleges participated in the expansion of AACC's Plus 50 Initiative as regional conference hosts. Additional community colleges served as Plus 50 Initiative Peer-to-Peer Ambassadors, expanding the network of Plus 50 colleges by reaching out to additional community colleges. This peer learning initiative provided a vehicle for community college representatives to share knowledge on starting and sustaining quality educational programs for plus 50 students.
As part of the expansion, the association hosted a series of six webinars to facilitate learning and discussion for community college staff nationwide who were seeking to learn more about starting and improving college programs for plus 50 learners. More than 300 administrators and faculty from 96 community colleges across the country participated in the live webinars, representing a wide range of campus divisions: workforce development, continuing education, communications and marketing, program operations, and community development. See the Plus 50 Webinar recordings and PowerPoint presentations.
Beginning of the Program
The Plus 50 Initiative began in 2008, with funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies and involved 15 community colleges. Because of its innovation and documented successes, the program has continually attracted interest from additional community colleges and new grant funding. The project began with a focus on learning, training and retraining, and civic engagement for baby boomers.
Documented Results: How the Plus 50 Initiative is Changing College Practices & Lives
The Plus 50 Initiative aims to change the way programming and services are developed and implemented at community colleges for plus 50 learners. A significant aspect of the initiative is to facilitate information sharing and best practices in serving the unique instructional and academic support needs of plus 50 learners at community colleges nationwide.
To assist in this effort, AACC engaged LFA Group as an independent, outside evaluator of the Plus 50 Initiative to assess the initiative and support continuous improvement. The reports issued measure grantees college implementation progress and participant satisfaction. They also capture lessons learned and promising practices emerging in the field. Implementation successes and challenges, as well as information on factors contributing to plus 50 student success, are provided for use by other community colleges.
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.
In only 4 years, 17 community colleges participating in the “Plus 50 Completion Strategy” assisted thousands of adults age 50 and over going to college and striving to complete certificates or credentials that lead to employment, says this 2014 evaluation report. Researchers found that the community colleges assisted 20,514 baby boomers participating in workforce training programs and inspired 8,877 (43% the program participants) to complete degrees or credentials.
This 2014 evaluation report discusses the Plus 50 Encore Completion Program led by AACC from July 2012 to June 2014. Evaluators found that across the 100 participating colleges with workforce programs in 2013–2014, 2,550 students attained degrees, credit certificates, and non-credit certificates, up from 765 in 2012–2013.
This 2015 publication tells the story of AACC’s Plus 50 Initiative from 2008 to 2014 and examines how the program has evolved over time. Evaluators discuss in the publication how the initiative has impacted how community colleges serve students age 50 and over, how participating in the program has changed the lives of baby boomers, and how the initiative has sought to refine and replicate its learnings.
2015 - Plus 50 Programs in Practice: How AACC’s Plus 50 Initiative is Helping Community Colleges
Transform Programs and Services for Adults Age 50 and Over
2014 - Plus 50 Encore Completion Program: 2014 Process and Outcome Data Results
2014 - Plus 50 Completion Strategy: Year Four Evaluation Results
2013 - Plus 50 Encore Completion Program: 2013 Process and Outcome Data Results
2013 - Plus 50 Completion Strategy: Year Three Evaluation Results
2012 - Plus 50 Completion Strategy: Year Two Evaluation Results
2012 - The Plus 50 Initiative Evaluation: Initiative Impact (news release)
2011 - Plus 50 Completion Strategy: Year One Evaluation Results
2010 - Plus 50: Impact Report
2010 - Plus 50 Comprehensive Implementation Results
2009 - Plus 50: Year One Evaluation Report
2009 - The Plus 50 Initiative: Executive Summary of the Year one Evaluation Report