Santa Fe College Receives “Plus 50” Grant Extension

Adults ages 50 and up may have an easier time transitioning back into the workforce thanks to renewed support from the Lumina Foundation for Education.

Santa Fe College, through its association with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), was recently awarded a four-year extension for its popular Plus 50 Initiative, which helps older students complete the degree and certificate programs they need to get hired.

“It’s very gratifying to broaden the scope of the things we do for the plus 50 students with the help of the AACC and the Lumina Foundation,” said Paul Hutchins, dean for educational centers. “This grant allows us to do marketing to make people over 50 aware of career and technical programs here, where people can get training to get back into the world of work.”

 Announced on Sept. 30, the extension, funded by the Lumina Foundation Adult Degree Completion Commitments, will allow Santa Fe College to build on its Plus 50 program’s initial success. Founded in 2008, the Plus 50 Initiative was originally a three-year program slated to conclude during this academic year. Last year alone, the program helped 2,834 students to attend credit and non-credit classes and 83 to earn associate’s degrees.

Now, under its new name, the Plus 50 Completion Initiative will continue to support 20 community colleges in their efforts to help plus 50 students reintegrate into the job market through higher education. Difficult economic times have resulted in higher unemployment and fewer jobs. Older job seekers in particular find themselves at a disadvantage, since only 15 percent of their age group found jobs each month in 2009, the lowest rate of any age group.

“For many of them, due to these economic times, they need to keep working. They can’t afford to retire,” said Elizabeth Albury, coordinator of community education at Santa Fe.  “The tough times and the attitude of this baby boomer community make them keep wanting to work.”

While the previous Plus 50 grant focused on recreation as well as education for the older population, the extension will focus exclusively on educational certification. The initiative therefore supports President Barack Obama’s agenda of having the highest college graduation rates in the world by 2020. Both the Lumina Foundation and the AACC have echoed this goal, each announcing its own plans to increase degree acquisition by that 2020 deadline. Encouraging older citizens to consider higher education is part of these measures to increase the number of degrees and certificates awarded each year.

This informational grant will allow Santa Fe to provide assistance in placing older students in high-demand career tracks. The most popular track, and the one that yields the most employment opportunities according to Albury, remains the health services field. Green technology, construction, and other skilled trades, however, are also among the options available to plus 50 students. While degree programs generally take a little longer, many certificates can be earned in six to 18 months.

“For people over 50, it can be scary. Sometimes, they’re afraid of the challenges, afraid because they haven’t been in school for a while and may have forgotten some of their study skills,” said Hutchins. “But we remind them that it’s a student-centered college. We really try to remove any barriers that make them think they can’t be successful, because we know they can be.”

While the money received from this grant will not be used for students’ tuition, the funds will likely be used to increase targeted marketing and the amount of advising catered specifically towards students ages 50 and up. Hutchins also stated a tentative desire for further community outreach by appealing to civic organizations through speakers and press materials.

“We’re hoping to gain support for practices and procedures that will last even when the grant runs out,” said Hutchins. “When you get these grants, you need to plan for the future. We hope to continue some of these same programs and continue to reach out to people over 50–we want to make that part of our culture here at Santa Fe.”

With the support of the Plus 50 Initiative, the construction and technical programs will be holding a promotional event from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19 aimed at educating the older population about the field through tabling and promotional material. Similar events for various programs and career-changing seminars are held year-round to introduce the plus 50 crowd to a new skill set.

“Plus 50 students have life skills behind them, and they’re motivated to follow a career they haven’t had the chance to do,” said Albury. “This grant will allow the college to improve its ability to let possible plus 50 students know about the programs available and let us better counsel them.”

SF Plus 50 website

National Plus 50 website

This press release was written by Allison Griner, Communication Specialist, College Relations

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