Learning to Adapt; Community Colleges Offer Older Workers an Affordable Way to Reinvent Themselves and Find Their Place in a Changing Economy
Tyre, Peg, Newsweek
Byline: Peg Tyre
If it's true that there are no second acts in American life, then the baby boomers currently enrolled in community colleges around the country never got the memo. In the early '90s, after the nuclear power plant where he worked shut down, Roger Mooberry, 57, of Longview, Wash., earned an associate's degree from nearby Lower Columbia College, then took a job at Intel making semiconductors. Last year, when he found himself unemployed again, he returned to LCC, this time enrolling in a program to train workers for high-tech jobs in the pulp and paper industry. "The skills I'm learning will help me open doors even at my age," says Mooberry. "And I'll need that because retirement just isn't in my vocabulary."
For workers like Mooberry, community colleges are an accessible and affordable way to reinvent themselves. These days, about 1, 200 colleges around the country offer full- and part-time students two-year degrees and job training. While the campuses tend to be no frills, the entrance requirements are minimal and tuition is a bargain compared with the stratospheric costs of a four-year university. Norma Kent, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Community Colleges, says most community colleges have strong ties with local industries and offer courses that help workers (and the companies that hire them) meet the needs of a changing economy. Currently, about 1 million boomers are retooling at community colleges around the country. As more and more people decide they won't or can't retire, says Kent, "we expect an even greater number of boomers to end up at our door."
Paul Bradford, 49, of Jackson, Ala., enrolled in community college as a kind of insurance policy. Seventeen years ago, when he took a job as a paper-machine operator at Boise Cascade, a paper company, he quickly realized that buyouts, consolidations and plant closings in his industry were not the exception, but the rule. …