Graduate Tampa Bay: Tampa Bay Community Colleges Target Baby Boomers

With a growing population of people over the age of 50 in the Tampa Bay region, local community colleges are attracting older students to new programs designed to help experienced adults hone skills and perhaps achieve an encore career.
The programs are possible thanks to grants from the American Association of Community Colleges’ Plus 50 Encore Completion Program, which aims to help the growing population with workforce training and preparation for new careers. 
Of 100 community colleges selected for the program nationwide, three are in the Tampa Bay region: Pasco Hernando Community College, St. Petersburg College and State College of Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
The program focuses on fields that give back and are in demand: education, health care and social services. 
“Baby boomers are starting to retire, but are not ready to quit work,” says Cindy Hunter, director of continuing and community education at State College of Florida. “Many are looking for short-term training or degree programs that will upgrade their skills or retrain them for a new job.”
Testing The Waters
State College launched an eight-week pilot program this fall to allow people to see if returning to college is right for them. The first four weeks provided computer training, a career interest inventory and a personality inventory. Students could then choose to reenter the workforce, in which case they received interview training and assistance with their resume and cover letter. If they chose to continue their education, they spent the next four weeks upgrading their math, reading and writing skills to prepare to enter the College’s degree or certificate programs. 
They are also developing an alternative certification program, which provides short-term training for anyone who has a Bachelors, Masters or Doctorate Degree and wants to work in the public school system. They will receive three to six months of training in classroom management.
Raising The Comfort Level
St. Petersburg College also launched programs to entice students over the age of 50 to enroll in one of their existing programs, which include a certificate in health information management or a technical certificate in health data analysis.
Faculty, student services and admissions offices are being trained to better serve the over 50 population. An individual on each of the College campuses has been appointed as a reference point to assist with registration and identification of campus resources. Orientations and information sessions help them better navigate the campus atmosphere. A demo class prior to starting the program helps them become more comfortable with technology.

“The whole process is very new and unique to them, something we tend to take for granted,” says Sheila Newberry, PhD., program coordinator for the Plus 50 Encore Completion Program at St. Petersburg College. Newberry recently completed her doctoral dissertation with an emphasis on people over 50 returning to community college. “It’s just a new world. It’s nothing like what they experienced if they had been to college before.” 
One thing that encouraged Newberry’s dissertation topic was the increase in college attendance by this age group within the last three to four years. She could see some of them very nervous about going back, particularly about using technology and being in a class with younger adults. Programs like the Encore Plus 50 Completion aim to make seniors more comfortable on a college campus.
According to the latest census data, close to 50 percent of the population in Pinellas County is over the age of 45. 
“We have a wealth of individuals out there that we could do a lot of good for and hopefully help them establish a better lifestyle,” says Newberry. 
Programs like these further the Graduate Tampa Bay initiative led by the Tampa Bay Partnership, which aims to increase the level of college degree attainment in the region by 1 percent. A higher level of degree attainment will lead to more economic vitality and job quality in the region. 
Megan Hendricks is a native Floridian and longtime Tampa Bay resident who loves the culture and diversity of the region. In her free time she enjoys local restaurants, thrift store shopping and spending time with her family. She earned her masters of business administration from USF Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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A Florida native and longtime Tampa Bay resident, Megan Hendricks graduated from the University of South Florida with a master's degree in business administration. She worked at the USF College of Business and has extensive community experience including the Tampa Bay Partnership's Talent Dividend Advisory Board, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Emerge Tampa Bay, Ekhos, and Bar Camp Tampa. She is a former board member and newsletter editor for Creative Tampa Bay. Megan enjoys telling the stories that make Tampa Bay a unique, diverse cultural experience.