The nation’s 78 million baby boomers began reaching retirement age this year, but a new initiative seeks to give them the tools to continue their education into their golden years.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) hopes to give these elders specially-targeted training programs at community colleges that will be aimed at promoting lifelong learning and preparation for a workforce that might require them to continue working.

The association has launched the Plus 50 Initiative, which awards community colleges three-year grants to implement or expand academic, civic and training programs that cater to students over the age of 50.

The project originated at 13 community colleges but has since expanded to 25 schools around the country. The $3.2 million effort is funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

“When minds expand, options do, too,” Dr. Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the AACC, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “Learning is one of the best ways to stay and feel young, and community colleges are increasingly providing more support and services tailored to meet the needs of older students who want to come back to school.”

Linda Willoughby, a Plus 50 advisor at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, Mass., said students 50 and over often need additional support as they transition into college.

“In my experience, adult students who either come back to school or start for the first time are very apprehensive, they are nervous and sometimes they lack self-confidence in what they can do,” she said. Her school offers computer training, career development and entrepreneurial skills workshops for the non-traditional students.

Willoughby said a research project a colleague conducted several years ago found that adult learners who felt supported in their college endeavors earned higher GPAs.

“Anybody who is supported in anything is going to achieve more,” Willoughby said. “What we try to do is help them over this hurdle…and give them the little push that they need.”

Colleges participating in the Plus 50 Initiative include:

Clover Part Technical College (Lakewood, Wash.)
Joliet Junior College (Joliet, Ill.)
Luzerne County Community College (Nanticoke, Pa.)
Richland College, part of the Dallas County Community College District (Texas)
Santa Fe College (Gainesville, Fla.)
St. Louis Community College (St. Louis, Mo.)
Wake Technical Community College (Raleigh, N.C.)
Western Dakota Technical Institute (Rapid City, S.D.)
Cape Cod Community College (West Barnstable, Mass.)
College of Central Florida (Ocala, Fla.)
Century College (White Bear Lake, Minn.)
Clark College (Vancouver, Wash.)
Community Colleges of Spokane (Wash.)
College of Central Florida – Rose State College (Midwest City, Okla.)
Pasco-Hernando Community College (New Port Richey, Fla.)
Century College (Green Bay, Wis.)
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (Green Bay, Wis.)
Clover Park Technical College (Pierce County, Wash.)
Pierce County Community Colleges (Pierce County, Wash.)
Community Colleges of Spokane (Shoreline, Wash.)
Shoreline Community College (Shoreline, Wash.)
Joliet Junior College (Palos Hills, Ill.)
Moraine Valley Community College (Palos Hills, Ill.)
St. Louis Community College (Lee’s Summit, Mo.)
Metropolitan Community College (Lee’s Summit, Mo.)
Western Dakota Technical Institute (Glendive, Mont.)
Dawson Community College (Glendive, Mont.)