Universities Retool and Boomers Flock Back to Campus

Adults are going back to college to restart their career, switch jobs, launch a second act, or just to have fun learning. But as you might expect, it's expensive. Here are seven ways one expert says will make going back to campus affordable.

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Excuse me, professor: Am I too old to ask this question?

Adults are streaming back to college. Some are mid-career and looking to get back on track after losing ground in the recession. Others are a little older, realizing they haven’t saved enough to retire and seeking training for a second-act career. Still others are retired and exploring new passions, and universities are taking note like never before.

Rutgers has 50,000 students in a continuing education program; that’s as many as they have enrolled in degree programs. Schools like UCLA and Texas A&M offer campus housing for families, and Penn State and University of Arizona even have retirement centers right on campus.

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The newest push is at community colleges, which are becoming more focused on specific courses to train adults for specific jobs which, despite the high unemployment rate, have gone begging. The New York Times reports:

“Even though nearly 13 million Americans are still out of work, many employers complain that they cannot find the right people to fill myriad job openings—for example, specialists in medical information technology or operators of computer-controlled manufacturing machinery. All told, the nation’s employers have 3.4 million job openings, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—a number of jobs that if filled could cut the unemployment rate, currently 8.3%, to around 6%.”

If you are thinking about going back to college for another degree, new accreditation or just for fun, you might be surprised at how welcome you will be and how many peers you’ll find there. You may also get sticker shock. College costs are up four times from 30 years ago. Kate Forgach, a baby boomer specialist at consumer website Kinoli, offers these tips for making a return to college affordable:

  • Shop around
A U.S. Department of Education website makes it easy to compare costs at different schools.
  • Get help It’s easy to assume grants and fellowships are only for the young. But today many programs target non-traditional students. AARP has a scholarship for women over 50.
  • Ask your boss You don’t have to work for a major employer to receive continuing-education support. Ask your employer to provide financial aid as you update your skills.
  • Apply for Federal Work Study Campus employers appreciate the work ethic of mature students. You’ll have an edge over younger competitors in landing one of these positions.
  • Look into a Community College
Starting at a community college can save you a boatload. These two-year schools account for 40% of all enrollments in U.S. higher education.
  • Study Abroad
Combine travel and lower tuition rates by attending school in another country. Canada is an excellent option. You’ll find a list of the most-respected institutions in the world here.
  • Easy on the textbooks
Campus bookstores are no longer the only game in town. Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer great deals. Other online options include Chegg.com, where you can rent textbooks, buy them at a reduced price and upload them to your e-reader.

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