AFTER YEARS OF WORKING as a bookkeeper and 15 years of selling dental supplies, Florence Klein decided it was time to do what she wanted to do as opposed to what she thought she should be doing. She entered Kingsborough Community College, Brooklyn, N.Y., at age 70 in 1992 with no particular idea of what to study, but quickly found her niche in the mental health and human services curriculum, taking the first step toward fulfilling a lifelong desire to become a therapist.
After receiving her associate degree in 1994, Klein went on to earn a bachelor's degree in behavioral science in 1997 at The City University of New York and New York City Technical Institute. Today, at 80, she has her own practice specializing in grief therapy, helping individuals and their family members cope with the challenges of chronic illnesses and death.
Klein represents a growing new trend among Americans who are living longer than ever and have seen their retirement savings shrink due to stock market turmoil. More and more of these seniors are entering the workforce upon completion of their reeducation. Klein was ahead of her time in this respect, but she is a great example of the vitality and spirit that is driving seniors back to college and back into the workforce.
A survey of workers over 45 by the American Association of Retired Persons found that 69% plan to continue working in retirement. About 75% of those surveyed said money is a major reason why. Fifty-six percent indicated that they will need to work in order to pay for escalating health care costs.
A growing amount of companies are significantly reducing or entirely eliminating retiree medical plans. This may be another factor forcing retirees to return to work. Meanwhile a study by Watson Wyatt found that 20% of employers studied have eliminated retiree medical plans for new hires.
Currently, there are about 4,500,000 Americans 65 and over working or looking for work, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is up 32% from 3,400,000 in 1992.
The ability of seniors to reenter the labor force and find jobs has no doubt been aided by the fact that more of them are enrolling in career- or job-related education programs. According to the latest available data from the Department of Education, the number of Americans 55 and older enrolled in career- or job-related adult education courses increased by 45% between 1995 and 1999.
An analysis of the Department of Education statistics found that there were 10,800,000 Americans 55 and older participating in adult education programs in 1995. Of those, 3,800,000, or 35%, were enrolled in career- or job-related courses. By 1999, seniors in adult education jumped 27% to 13,700,000, of which 5,500,000 were taking job-related courses. Most surprisingly, perhaps, is the fact that, while individuals 65 and older enrolled in adult education programs grew 12% between 1995 and 1999, those taking job-related courses expanded by 38%, from about 697,000 to 966,000.
The number of seniors in job-related education programs probably has grown even more in the last two years, due to the increased financial pressure to stay on the job. Klein was part of a unique program at Kingsborough Community College called My Turn that allows individuals 60 and over to earn a degree tuition-free (only paying a $70 registration fee each semester). The school estimates that it serves around 1,000 seniors each academic semester, about 10% of whom are there expressly to learn or hone skills that will facilitate their reentrance into the workforce.
A growing demand
Kingsborough is not the only community college that has recognized that there is increasing demand for educational resources for the nation's growing population of seniors. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, many institutions throughout the country are creating extensive programs designed to attract and educate them. …