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Why colleges may soon have more midcareer students

Sabri Ben-Achour and Erika Soderstrom Feb 14, 2023
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Pilot programs for experienced workers at Harvard, Notre Dame and the University of Texas at Austin offer a glimpse at the possible future of continuing education. Jeff Pachoud/AFP via Getty Images

Why colleges may soon have more midcareer students

Sabri Ben-Achour and Erika Soderstrom Feb 14, 2023
Heard on:
Pilot programs for experienced workers at Harvard, Notre Dame and the University of Texas at Austin offer a glimpse at the possible future of continuing education. Jeff Pachoud/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The fastest-growing segment of the workforce is people over 65. More experienced workers are trying to stay attached to the job market longer — perhaps through phased retirement and part-time work.

Thus far, higher education hasn’t rolled out the welcome mat to older workers who want to extend their careers with additional schooling. But there are some experiments that suggest change is slowly coming, according to Marketplace senior economics contributor Chris Farrell.

“Probably the best known are based at Harvard, Stanford, University of Texas, Austin; and Notre Dame,” Farrell said in an interview with Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour. “I recently spent several days at Notre Dame’s Inspired Leadership Initiative, and I met with these 20 fellows. And rather than to retire, they’re exploring how might they tap into their experience and skills to do something different and perhaps more meaningful in the second half of life.”

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Chris Farrell: [Most] institutions, they still largely focus on offering education to younger people. And they’re not geared toward having classes that help experienced workers launch their second or third acts. But the demand for that kind of educational opportunity is only going to grow in coming years. I mean, there’s this combination of longer lifespans and technological changes that’s pushing more and more people to multiple jobs and fluid careers over a longer period of time.

Sabri Ben-Achour: What does a college that is trying to go intergenerational or orient itself to lifelong learning — what does that look like?

Farrell: So there’s a couple of really intriguing experiments, innovations that are going on. Probably the best known are based at Harvard, Stanford, University of Texas, Austin; and Notre Dame. And these are small programs. They’re built around a cohort of fellows in the second half of life. And I recently spent several days at Notre Dame’s Inspired Leadership Initiative, and I met with these 20 fellows. And rather than to retire, they’re exploring how might they tap into their experience and skills to do something different and perhaps more meaningful in the second half of life. One of my main takeaways is how much the fellows learned from each other and also learned from being around the undergraduates.

Ben-Achour: You know, paying for college once is hard enough. How are people supposed to pay for it again? I mean, Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame, those are not cheap.

Farrell: Yes, and these programs are not cheap. Now, there are also some other initiatives around the country that are shorter-term programs or lower-cost programs. But hopefully, the lesson is the experience of these higher-end encore programs can be transferred with some modifications to less expensive institutions with more inclusive missions. Because here’s the thing, the demand is there.

Ben-Achour: Do you think we’re going to see more of these kinds of programs?

Farrell: Here’s my fearless forecast. Taking the knowledge learned at experiments like Notre Dame and other places, colleges and universities, over the next three decades, will transform themselves into multigenerational institutions. I like the way Andrew Haldane — he’s the former chief economist at the Bank of England — and he put it that universities will need to cater for multiple entry points along the age distribution rather than focusing on the young. In short, they will become centers for lifelong learning.

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