Not a week passes without Jan Abushakrah getting calls from students who want to come to Oregon's Portland Community College to find themselves.

Share story

Not a week passes without Jan Abushakrah getting calls from students who want to come to Oregon’s Portland Community College to find themselves.

Not a surprise for a college. But the people on the other end of the phone aren’t fresh-faced youths just out of high school.

“They call and say, ‘I am in my 40s or 50s and I am looking to reinvent myself. I want to do something that feeds my soul, where I can make a mark,’ ” says Abushakrah, director of PCC’s gerontology program. “This is what we’re hearing from our older students all the time.”

Record numbers of midlife adults are enrolling in Portland Community College’s credit programs to learn new skills. It’s part of a national trend.

A majority of the students in the gerontology program Abushakrah directs are old enough to have been flower children — or the parents of flower children. Nursing and social services also attract a lot of older students.

Clackamas Community College, in Oregon City, is experiencing its own boomer surge. Enrollment for students 50 and older spiked more than 70 percent in the last three years and 34 percent in the last year.

“People are looking at new careers because they may be augmenting a retirement or they may not be ready to retire and want to start something new,” says Anne Donelson, the college’s public-relations director.

Community colleges provide a natural fit for older adults to segue into a new career. Students don’t have to commit to a long degree program; they can take a few classes or earn a certificate, whether they’ve had prior college experience or not.

Many community colleges accommodate working students with evening and online courses.

To keep up, PCC is adding state-recognized certificate programs geared toward boomers, such as horticultural therapy or recreational consulting. The need for adult programs will only grow.

“In many ways this is uncharted territory,” Abushakrah says. “We feel this is the tip of the iceberg.”