Glossy college brochures often show
smiling young people studying, writ-
ing and tailgating at beautiful college
campuses. However, not all college
students are age 18-22. Students of all
ages return to college every year to
update their work skills and to pre-
pare for new careers. At Jefferson State
Community College, we are committed
to making our college a place where
older students can thrive and find their
place. Here are some effective strategies
any college can use to do the same:
MAKE SURE YOUR OLDER STUDENTS
FEEL LIKE THEY BELONG. Do older
adults see pictures of people who look
like them in college brochures, or
are only younger students featured?
Prominently featuring older students
in college marketing materials can
show older students that the college
wants them there and is committed
to their success.
REACH THE STUDENTS WHERE THEY
ARE. Today, many colleges understandably emphasize the convenience
of online features such as applying
for admission, communicating with
instructors, and checking grades
electronically. Older students, however,
may appreciate a different approach.
For example, some older students are
not comfortable with texting and may
prefer a good, old-fashioned phone call.
In this era of instant communication,
don’t forget to utilize the many com-
munication options available. Using
a student’s preferred communication
mode will also personalize the college
experience for the student.
SUPPORT YOUR STUDENTS. It’s not
enough to get students enrolled if they
do not complete their classes and go on
to finish certificates, degrees or other credentials needed for a job. What tutoring
services can you offer to support older
students? What strategies can you use
to check in on students throughout the
semester? Early intervention can allow
you to assist students before it is too late,
leading to better outcomes for all. Also
remember student organizations are for
all students, so be sure older students
know they are welcome in campus clubs.
PREPARE YOUR STUDENTS FOR TODAY’S
AND TOMORROW’S JOBS. Computer
skills are an absolute must for today’s
workforce. Offer Word and Excel classes
that go beyond basic data entry. Aim
for students to leave your classes
with the higher technological skills
employers value. Students also need to
understand the process for applying for
jobs is different than when they first
entered the workforce. They need prac-
tice completing online applications and
uploading supporting documents such
as transcripts or resumes. In addition, a
job interview can be a nerve-wracking
experience especially if you have not
interviewed in over a decade. A mock
interview is a great way for students
to work through their nerves and gain
confidence for their actual interviews.
It also is a great way for others to offer
gentle critiques, so students can shine
and receive job offers.
ENCOURAGE STUDENTS TO OWN THEIR
AGE. Many students may see their age
as a liability, but there are so many
strengths that older workers possess.
In addition to having a lifetime of
experience, many of these students
have mastered the “soft skills” that so
many younger workers struggle with,
including punctuality, tactfulness and
problem-solving techniques. Stress to
your older students that they can sell
themselves as an asset to their new
workplaces. Before long, employers will
be lining up to hire these students.
A community college truly is for all
members of the community. Welcome
older students with open arms and reap
the benefits that come from working with
these amazing adults.
Liesl W. Harris is associate dean of transfer and
general studies at Jefferson State Community College
in Birmingham, Alabama.
Helping older adults go back to college
By Liesl W. Harris