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A boost to boomer education

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By Bob Reichman

Baby boomers are heading back to the classrooms in increasing numbers – at least they are in Marion County.

With a growing senior population, Marion County is becoming the ideal location for baby boomers seeking to expand their educational horizons and Central Florida Community College (CFCC) is meeting the need.

Recently, the college received a boost to enhance its educational programs for senior citizens. The college was selected to receive a $10,000 expansion grant in the Plus 50 Initiative that serves the community’s senior population.

CFCC is one of five colleges selected nationwide in 2008 as a mentor college in the Plus 50 Initiative, sponsored by the American Association of Community Colleges and part of a $3.2 million grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies, according to a CFCC press release.

As a mentor college, CFCC provides guidance to two of 10 colleges that received demonstration grants. Santa Fe College is one of the 10 and the only other college selected from Florida. In its expanded role, the college will mentor Rose State College in Midwest City, Okla.

“CFCC was selected for the Plus 50 Initiative because we are one of the premier programs in the country providing programs and services to seniors,” said Jerone Gamble, executive manager of Continuing Education at CFCC. “The expansion grant demonstrates the confidence that the American Association of Community Colleges has in CFCC.     “CFCC is way ahead of most colleges in the country,” Gamble said. “What we’re doing here is not being done in other colleges across the country. It is very unique.”

Marion County has an estimated 30 percent of its residents in the 50-plus category, Gamble said. The state average is between 17 and 18 percent.

“Marion County is a microcosm of what will happen in communities throughout America” as the population ages, Gamble said.

While the college assists with meeting the needs of its seniors, the expansion grant will provide an additional $10,000 to the original $70,000 that is being distributed over three years.

The Plus 50 grant has allowed CFCC’s Pathways to Living, Learning and Serving program to develop new course offerings leading to employment opportunities for Plus 50 students. Those courses include online business classes, individual and corporate tax preparation courses, customer service technology and intergenerational computer courses.

This year, the college has provided training to more than 250 baby boomers interested in re-entering the workplace, Gamble said. Their reasons for returning to school vary – some are outliving their retirement nest eggs, others are learning contemporary skills. For some seniors, that means taking courses in computer skills that may not have been available to them earlier in life.

The grant has also allowed CFCC to revise the curriculum for the Senior Institute, which provides intellectually stimulating courses for students 50 and better, and supports the college’s boomer initiative, which provides meaningful volunteer opportunities for the growing baby boomer population, according to the release.

This year, the Senior Institue has about 400 members and about 1,000 volunteers, Gamble said.

Community colleges are ideally suited to help baby boomers determine how to make their bonus years productive and fulfilling, according to the AACC. The institutions have long catered to the needs of nontraditional students, with 16 percent of the community college population over age 40, according to the release.

For information about senior programs at CFCC, contact Jerone Gamble at 854-2322, ext. 1282, or Betty Green at 291-4444. You can also discover more about the program on the Internet at: www.pathways.cf.edu.