01/21/2012 07:55 am ET Updated May 16, 2012

Community Colleges Training Post 50s For Jobs

After working years as a litigation paralegal, Alison Grazul, 63, found herself a victim of the floundering economy, out of work with four children and declining health. Already equipped with her bachelor's degree but without sufficient funds to pursue a master's, Grazul seized the opportunity to pursue a second act. She enrolled at Cape Cod Community College in her home state of Massachusetts, and in May of last year, earned her human services certificate.

Not only did the certificate fulfill her interest of working with people suffering from addictions, it also helped her land her current job at Gosnold Emerson House, a treatment center and program for drug and alcohol addicted women. Next week, Grazul will be returning to Cape Cod Community College once again as she works towards earning a state license in counseling those in need. Eventually, she aspires to open a substance abuse treatment facility for women over 50.

More community college resources are being funneled to people like Grazul. For example, the Deerbrook Charitable Trust recently announced a $3.2 million grant over three years to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) to aid in further development of AACC's already successful Plus 50 Initiative, a program tailored to adults struggling in the bleak job market. With the help of the Deerbrook grant, the Plus 50 Initiative is aiming to reach an additional 10,000 Post 50 students at 100 community colleges, providing job training and steering individuals toward a certificate or degree in meaningful work.

A one-year evaluation of the AACC's Plus 50 Completion reports that across 8 colleges, nearly 3,500 post 50s completed the workforce course. The most common programs are in business, health (including pharmacy, phlebotomy, medical assistance, and EMT) and nursing. Where should job-seeking Post 50s set their sights? Norma Kent of the AACC told The Huffington Post, "Plus 50 students are not a homogenous group. One occupation is limiting. But there are many options available in healthcare, education and social service that are growing possibilities."

The courses offered in these various workforce training programs were tweaked to meet the needs of plus 50 learners. The majority of colleges offering courses with flexible scheduling and an alternative accelerated format, which allows the work to be completed in less than the length of a standard term. A few of the colleges also offered courses taught by instructors who had previously participated in Plus 50 professional development.

Ready to enroll? If you're thinking of following in Grazul's footsteps, first be wary of for-profit schools which have proliferated due to community college budget cuts. Mixed with the higher demand, larger numbers of students and a lack of funding for higher education, these for-profit institutions often become a last resort, but can drain your pockets in the process. Furthermore, the heftier price tag doesn't always mean a more valuable degree.

Nonetheless, Grazul wholeheartedly recommends that fellow Post 50s follow her lead, whether it be to pursue an encore career or for intellectual stimulation. "Here in the Cape, especially during the winter, there are a lot of elderly people who have always lived here and retirees that have settled here. There's really not much going like there is in Boston, and it's nice to have the college nearby. They have Lifelong Learning programs with classes to discuss politics, learn languages, classes on portraiture," Grazul explains. And for those worried about the hoards of Millenials prompting boomers to stick out like a sore thumb, Grazul reassures, "It's just the opposite. I had the best time. The kids were so helpful. They liked us [Post 50s] and we liked them, it was a really nice experience. It keeps your brain going."

(Check out the video below for one Post 50's experience at a community college in Washington State.)