Kerry Hart: Generation mix brings challenges, opportunities
February 17, 2008
“Never trust anyone over 30” was the mantra chanted by many young college students several decades ago. Those college students were part of the baby boomer generation and, with many of their youthful peers, protested the Vietnam war and rebelled against the “establishment.” This was a sub-culture that also encompassed many baby boomers who had been disenfranchised from receiving a college education for one reason or another. But, as the well-know street philosopher of that era, Bob Dylan, prophetically sang in one of his songs, “The times, they are a changin’.”
There currently are about 80 million baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, who will reach retirement age during the next 20 years. Many of them intend to forego full retirement and remain in the workforce well into their 60s and possibly their 70s. According to recent estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 41 percent of adults 55 and older will still be in the workforce by 2014.
This has significant implications for a changing role of higher education.
Many blue collar workers, after a lifetime of working in heavy labor, are seeking skills that will open up new opportunities to get away from heavy lifting to get away from working in the cold weather, and to find a meaningful second career that will keep the paychecks coming in. In some parts of the country, the trend is starting to shift away from personal interest classes to retraining for new jobs that are less physically taxing.
Although the typical comprehensive community college will continue to offer academic transfer classes, career-tech classes, personal interest classes for lifelong learning and customized training for business and industry, many of the baby boomers returning to college are seeking courses and programs that will help them retool – particularly in technology.
In addition, community colleges are going to need to break away from their traditional scheduling patterns and find ways to accommodate this new population by offering classes on weekends, evenings and on other sites in the community that provide easy access – and by finding creative ways to tailor the curriculum to maximize learning.
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The new demands placed on the community college go beyond making changes in the curriculum and providing enhanced support services. Community colleges are going to need to increase partnerships with industry, local economic development groups and other institutions in order for the curriculum to provide a fair reflection of job opportunities.
With this new trend comes a hidden benefit to traditional-aged college students. The boomers are bringing a high work ethic into the classroom that provides healthy competition for academic achievement and also serves as a role model for the traditional 18-year-old student.
The times, they are indeed a changin’.
Kerry Hart is dean of the Colorado Mountain College Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs.