Defining Encore Education
The word “encore” typically refers to an additional or final act at the end of a concert or theatrical production, and that definition is well-suited to the idea of an encore education. Bianca Ambrosio, a New York-based writer with experience teaching adult students, notes that encore students are “mostly adults who have finished raising their children and are looking to get back into the workforce or change jobs.” She continues: “These students may be at dead-end jobs, work night shifts or simply wish to become employed in a field or industry completely unrelated to their current one – some may even want to start their own businesses.”
Whatever their reasons, encore students are increasingly becoming more common on college campuses. Journalist Gregg Easterbrook noted in an article for The Atlantic that life expectancy at birth in the U.S. has risen approximately three months per year since 1840. At that rate, the average life expectancy at the end of this century will be 100 years.
Because of this, institutions must be ready for the uptick of aging learners. When considering the most common reasons someone might pursue an encore education, Ambrosio cites the freedom and flexibility afforded later in life. “An encore education is beneficial because adults can now go to college at their leisure, or even take classes online and begin a career that is more suitable for them and their needs,” she says.
Another reason is this set of learners is typically looking to build their legacy. Humans have a need to create something that outlasts them and, while this can exist in the form of being a parent, scientists say that it’s routinely seen in the later careers that adults take on. According to a study by adult education site Encore.org, two-thirds of adults aged 44 to 70 already engaged in encore work said they were “strongly motivated” by the desire to make a positive social impact. And for many individuals, they need a degree to reach those goals.
The positive social impact of one’s legacy can be a consideration for continuing education as a senior citizen, but some may be attracted to more immediate results. Ambrosio notes that some students are simply striving to improve their economic situation and higher education is the catalyst for that. “Many encore students are looking for better pay and more job security and the programs they study usually offer that,” she says. While these programs can help positively impact the social landscape, they also offer certifications and job training that can potentially increase wages for those students.
For whatever reason an individual decides to tackle and encore education, options abound. From online degrees to traditional four-year institutions, encore educations are increasingly becoming more available. When making the decision to continue education there are many details to consider — financial or otherwise. Finding the right institution is a good place to start.
Education expert Bianca Ambrosio makes clear that preparation is key when undertaking an encore education in a traditional college setting. Considering the time dedication necessary for completing coursework is critical as it may take some time to readjust to classroom life. “Traditional students are right out of high school and have already acclimated to the educational setting,” Ambrosio says.
She also points out that there could be some technological lag between what’s expected by a professor and how tech-savvy the encore learner is, suggesting that the student “keep up-to-date with (Microsoft) Word, PowerPoint and Excel,” and also be aware of what they don’t know.
The encore learner should also note that colleges and universities offer much more than just classes. Emily Brandon, a staff writer for U.S. News, states that it’s critical to take advantage of all these institutions have to offer. “Colleges tend to host speakers, concerts, politicians and sporting events, and local residents are frequently invited to take part.”
From auditing classes to simply using the resources of a university library, amenities are becoming increasingly available to baby boomers looking to scratch their intellectual itch. While a traditional education may be of interest, there are also innumerable learning opportunities aimed directly at seniors. From community college courses to the 120 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (located at colleges in all 50 states and D.C.), the chance for baby boomers to be intellectually and socially engaged is becoming more accessible.
Ambrosio says encore learners should remember they’re likely to feel at a disadvantage – at least in the beginning. “Professors of encore students typically have to work more closely with learners because they’ve probably been out of school for a long time and need more help getting acclimated,” she notes.
Though adult students may feel overwhelmed at times, professors are generally ready and willing to help them build confidence and courage. “Professors will do as much as possible to make sure their students are on track and passing, and that includes encore learners,” Ambrosio says. “Professors who teach encore students are under a lot of pressure in many ways because each student counts. They want to see you succeed and will help you to do so.”