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.
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 the 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.
The most recent initiative expansion, the Plus 50 Encore Completion Program, is reaching out to 100 community colleges across the country and is helping baby boomers earn high-value degrees or certificates in fields that give back (education, health care, social services) and are hiring. 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.
Through the original program, and the subsequent expansions, the Plus 50 Initiative has served more than 24,200 students.
History of the Program
Beginning of the Program
The project 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.
Expansion to Additional Colleges & Re-Tooling to Focus on Workforce Training
The economic recession hit after the program launched and put baby boomers out of work for lengthy periods of time. People age 50 and over wanted to come back to college and retrain 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.
The Plus 50 Completion Strategy
Beginning in 2010, AACC involved 18 community colleges working to increase the number of students age 50 and up, especially those with some prior college credits, to complete credentials and degrees that can help them get hired. Leveraging funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies, Lumina Foundation supported this expansion. The Plus 50 Completion Strategy aims to help plus 50 workers who are still struggling to recover from the economic recession that sparked record unemployment levels and decimated retirement accounts. The focus on completing degrees, certificates or not-for-credit credentials in high-value occupations is a key part of the strategy, because education credentials will be needed for the jobs of the future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 30%of the nation’s fastest-growing occupations will be filled by people who have a postsecondary education credential. See year 1 evaluation results, issued in 2011.
The colleges participating in the initiative reached their goals two years ahead of schedule, and are continuing to assist plus 50 adults in finishing degrees and postsecondary credentials. Approximately 9,292 student baby boomers were assisted in the last 2 years by the 18 colleges participating in the program. Forty-six percent of those students, approximately 4,243 of them, completed degrees or certificates over the last 2 years.
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. Baby boomers took courses in accounting, business administration, criminal justice, early childhood education, health information technology, human services, mechanics technology, computer support, nursing, pharmacy, and phlebotomy.
The colleges involved in this program continued their commitment to helping plus 50 students complete degrees and credentials that can help them improve their careers. The 18 colleges participating in the initiative exceeded the program’s goals by serving 54% more plus 50 students over the program’s 3-year duration 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.
This initiative 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.
Preparing Baby Boomers for High-Value Careers That Give Back: The Plus 50 Encore Completion Program
Beginning in 2012, this program aims to help 10,000 baby boomers earn high-value degrees or certificates in fields that give back (education, health care, social services) and are hiring. 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 as pharmacy technicians, clinical dental assistants, early childhood educators, medical billing and coding specialists, certified nursing assistants, substance abuse counselors, adult basic education instructors, human resources specialists, and positions in other in-demand fields.
This project is tripling in size the Plus 50 Initiative to 100 community colleges from 2012 to 2015. New funding from the Deerbrook Charitable Trust supports this expansion. The grant funding will provide these new plus 50 colleges with tools and resources, funds and expertise needed to build successful plus 50 programs.
If your college is interested in joining the initiative, please send an e-mail to Mary Sue Vickers to be notified about our next round of grant applications in fall 2013.
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.
2013 - Plus 50 Completion Strategy: Year Three Evaluation Results
2012 - Plus 50 Completion Strategy: Year Two Evaluaton 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