Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Encore Education

"Animal House," the comedy classic starring John Belushi, was set in 1962. But the anarchic attitude of the n'er-do-wells at the Delta House fraternity reflected the Baby Boomer zeitgeist of 1978, the year the movie was released.

Boomer college kids of that era went on to graduate (most of them.... eventually), get jobs, marry, raise kids, and... go back to college.

Adults aged 50 and older now account for 3.8 percent of U.S. students enrolled in courses at degree-granting colleges and universities, and that number is increasing, according to Mary Beth Lakin, associate director for the center of Lifelong Learning at the American Council on Education.

"People are living longer, and they are thinking about what they will do for the next 30 years," Lakin told the Badger-Herald in Wisconsin. "Also, given our uncertain economic times, a lot of older adults are thinking of staying in the work force rather than leaving it at a traditional retirement age."

University tuitions can be a barrier for Boomers in the 50s, who don't have a lifetime ahead of them over which to amortize the cost of a college education. But, then, there's no pressure to earn a full 120 credit hours, and many universities allow older students to audit courses for free. Courses at community colleges, of course, are much more affordable.

According to life cycle theory, human beings of all generations tend to de-emphasize material accumulation in favor of rewarding experiences. The back-to-school movement among Boomers is a vivid illustration of that theory. As the best educated generation in history when they came along, Boomers are even more likely than their elders to seek the intellectual stimulation of college-level classes.

Colleges will benefit, as will companies like The Teaching Company, which markets DVDs of the "great courses," and Rosetta Stone, which sells language learning on DVDs. Expect to see more travel packaged as educational tourism. While some Boomers will go for encore careers, expect many more to favor "encore education."


ajupresident said...

A great way to back to school is to take advantage of the many quality online programs that are emerging in today's world. For a list of quality schools, visit the DETC ( The DETC is the only accrediting association approved by the US Deparment of Education solely for the purpose of accrediting distance institutions.

My school, Andrew Jackson University, is accredited by the DETC and we have created a sponsored tuition program makes the cost of enrolling in our degree programs the best deal out there. For information on our school, go to

Don Kassner
Andrew Jackson University

Anonymous said...

More and more boomers will seek education that retrains and retools them for "encore careers" that combine income, impact and meaning. At this stage of life, making a difference becomes more important to many people. You can check out a website that connects individuals who want these "encore opportunities" and organizations and communities working to create them at

To see what community colleges are doing to create pathways for the "encore" audience you'll find some good resources at

Valuable Insights into the Hearts, Minds and Wallets of Today's Baby Boomers

This blog is by the authors of Boomer Consumer: Ten New Rules for Marketing to America's Largest, Wealthiest and Most Influential Group, on sale now.

Here is where you'll find information referenced in the book, as well as updates, news and perspectives from Matt Thornhill and John Martin, founders of the Boomer Project.