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Older Workers Learning How to Go Back to School Skip to content

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OIder Workers Are Heading Back to School

Learn about financial help and juggling a family, career and taking classes

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Bob Edwards: Hello. I'm Bob Edwards.

Wilma Consul: And I'm Wilma Consul.

Bob Edwards: With an AARP take on today. As part of our continuing series on work, we'll explore how some older Americans are going back to school in order to take on a new career, and how some state colleges and universities are welcoming these students with open arms and significantly lower tuition bills. But first an update on efforts to lower skyrocketing prescription drug prices. Earlier this year, President Trump addressed the issue in his State of the Union address.

Donald Trump: It's unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong. This is unfair. And together, we will stop it and we'll stop it fast.

Wilma Consul: Enacting legislation to lower drug prices is a top priority for the White House and for both sides of the isle in Congress, legislation that will help millions of American patients, patients like Robert Fowler. Robert Fowler was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer called multiple myeloma. A year's worth of Fowler's chemotherapy medication costs $240 to produce, but has a list price of nearly $200,000. Fowler testified recently in Congress.

Robert Fowler: You do not have the power to take away my cancer nor do you have the power to make my personal struggles with this disease any easier, but you do have the power to make my prescriptions more affordable.

Bob Edwards: AARP's Megan O'Reilly shares the latest from Capitol Hill and what we can expect in the coming weeks.

Megan O'Reilly: There's actually a bill in the Senate that passed out of the Senate Finance Committee in July, it's called the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act, S2543, this bill would do a couple of important things to really get at lowering drug prices and the costs that older Americans are facing. One, it would cap the out of pocket costs for consumers in part D at $3,100. It also includes an inflation based rebate, and what this policy would do would ... It would be to hold down price increases to the rate of inflation year after year. This is an important reform to to get at those skyrocketing prices that really hurt older Americans, and in the House, there was a bill, H.R.3, that bill was introduced in September and what this bill does is it also includes the inflation based rebate policy. It includes an out of pocket cap in the part D program as well, and it also would give Medicare the authority to negotiate prices for those really high cost drugs where no competition in the market exists.

Bob Edwards: While more work lies ahead, it's clear that there is growing bipartisan support to take action on prescription drug prices.

Megan O'Reilly: We expect to see more action in the House of Representatives. The bill, H.R.3 was introduced in September, but this bill will now go through what is called regular order. It'll go through a committee process. Hearings were held. There will be markups which is where sort of the members of Congress and those committees go line by line through the bill and offer amendments and changes, and then ultimately we expect that the House of Representatives will take it up on the floor for a vote. And then in the Senate we expect that the discussions in the debate about what happens in the Senate will continue. I think ultimately what we're expecting to see is that there could be activity around the end of the year around a drug package and our hope and what AARP is pushing for is that we include these policies that are going to lower drug prices and the costs that we know our members and all the older Americans are struggling with.

Bob Edwards: Here's what Senator Steve Daines, Republican from Montana had to say about the Senate legislation.

Steve Daines: I commend Chairman Grassley, ranking member Wyden for their leadership and their commitment to delivering legislation, delivering an outcome, delivering results for Montana's, the American people that will actually start to address this issue of high cost of prescription drugs. This is more than just talk, it's action. I am proud to have worked here with folks here on this compromise.

Bob Edwards: And Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Democrat from California.

Anna Eshoo: Today, millions of Americans are fighting two battles, one, their illness, a condition that they may have, and the cost of their prescription drugs to address it. As a nation, we're paying three to four times more for these needed drugs than other countries. Every member of this committee, every single one of us has heard from our constituents about the high cost of prescription drugs, and that's why we are beginning the journey today to address this issue in our country.

Megan O'Reilly: We are seeing sort of that bipartisan debate ongoing in Washington in real time, and again, that's why when we're sharing our stories and you're sharing your story with members of Congress, they relate and they have stories of their own and that's what we've got to keep doing. So, call your elected officials, urge them to act on meaningful reform now. If you've already reached out, do it again. This is going to be, this fall is a really important time in this debate. As I mentioned, we really think now is a unique opportunity and now is the time to get something done, so it's going to take all of us working together to get something done.

Bob Edwards: To take action, visit AARP.org/stopRXgreed.

Wilma Consul: Over the past few weeks, we've heard from people who took buyouts from their employers and made the best of it by planning new careers.

Bob Edwards: We also heard the story of Dale Kleber, who's fight against age discrimination led to an appeal before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has since announced a decision not to review Kleber's age discrimination case.

Wilma Consul: Lisa Marsh Ryerson, President of AARP Foundation, said that the organization will continue to challenge age discrimination in hiring and remain committed to removing all barriers to employment opportunities. It also plans to expand economic security for workers of all ages.

Bob Edwards: Going back to school at an older age can raise a lot of questions for prospective students. Some may worry about time management, others may feel rusty going back to the classroom, and most notably how to pay for it. We hear about the risks of taking out student loans for younger college attendees, but as we'll learn, student loans aren't just for 20 something undergrads. Since 2004, student loan debt among those 60 and older has grown the fastest of any age group. However, there are resources that can make it more affordable. AARP's Nora Duncan joins us to discuss a new program that offers discounted tuition for people over the age of 50. But now we'll hear from someone who successfully managed a significant career change all while juggling school, work, and family.

Wilma Consul: Amy Kiradjieff worked as a professional violinist for more than two decades.

Amy: I played a lot of different places. I subbed a lot, so I was a substitute violinist with Cincinnati Symphony, and I was the first person they called when they needed an extra violin, so I played quite a bit. I also was associate concertmaster of [inaudible 00:07:42]. Still am actually. And then I played with a lot of different groups and toured with different orchestras, and I also taught at my university.

Wilma Consul: Amy, with two degrees in music, enjoyed a successful career and a new family. But the birth of her first child at three pounds and nine ounces and eight weeks early made an impact that would later change [inaudible] life. She watched the nurses pour care and attention to her child. Their compassion for her and her family during a trying time started to uncover [inaudible 00:08:18], a desire to help others. Before her 40th birthday, now with three children, [inaudible] decided to go to nursing school.

Amy: In 2009 I had my first son, and he was born eight weeks early. That really opened my eyes to what nurses do and I also felt like neonatal nursing was so fascinating, because I'm dealing with these babies that their brains are just forming and just developing, and there's still much to that. As much as I really loved and I still love playing violin, there was something more that I wanted to do. I wanted to help other families. I wanted to care for other babies when they're in one of the worst seasons of their lives, and kind of help them through that. When my daughter turned one, I started taking my very first prerequisite class and it went from there.

Wilma Consul: [inaudible] once again a new student, had to adjust to learning in the digital world.

Amy: Even learning how to learn, a lot of times textbooks are difficult. And so a long time, that was a challenge for me. Next to time management with family and everything, that was the, I think that was the trickiest thing.

Wilma Consul: Like most people, [inaudible] had to address how to balance life and finance her career change. She had to take out student loans.

Amy: The last year and a half, I did work a little, but definitely had to take out student loans, which I was very fortunate. The first time around, I didn't have any student loan debt. So the second time around, I did have to take out some student loans.

Wilma Consul: A recent AARP study found student loan debt is growing at alarming rates for people age 50 and up. By 2018, older borrowers held 20% of all student loan debt, a fivefold increase in 15 years. But [inaudible] investment in her new career has paid off. She now works at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in the newborn intensive care unit. And she still plays the violin. The music you heard was courtesy of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Mischa Santora with Amy Kiradjieff on the violin. Rebecca Andrus and Susan Mag, flutes.

Bob Edwards: Many colleges and universities now offer an affordable path to a college degree or advanced learning for older people. For example, Minnesota State Colleges allow residents 62 and older to audit classes for free, or take classes toward a degree at $10 per credit hour. It's not just Minnesota. Every state now offers a low cost program for people over the age of 50. AARP Connecticut's Nora Duncan joins us to discuss a new program that offers discounted tuition for people over the age of 50. Nora, welcome to the show.

Nora Duncan: Thanks for having me.

Bob Edwards: Some older workers go back to school in order to learn a new skill. What is AARP doing to help make this a little more affordable?

Nora Duncan: Yes. Some folks do go back to school, and it can be for a certificate all the way to a Master's degree. Here in Connecticut, we are very lucky to have two colleges who participate with us by offering a little extra incentive to go back to school. At Goodwin College, which offers a variety of programs, many of which can be achieved for our older workers and our older students by utilizing a 25% AARP tuition scholarship. So, for the programs that they offer, which I mean, I can tell you range from a bachelor's in business administration to a certificate in CNC machining, 25% discount means real opportunity to achieve new skills that can be applied in the marketplace for jobs that are really out there that people can enter quickly. So, that is something that is really exciting. 25% tuition scholarship is a lot of money. And then over at Albertus Magnus, we have a 15% tuition discount that is offered for new and continuing students who are AARP members.

Bob Edwards: Now, how did the folks at these colleges react when you first approached them?

Nora Duncan: I will tell you that in one case they approached me. So that was really exciting, because they're showcasing the value of having an intergenerational student body, but they are really open to it. I mean, Connecticut is a state with an aging workforce. We've lost some of our key work opportunities with mergers and acquisitions and maybe some things going offshore, and then other opportunities have really risen to the top. For instance, I mentioned CNC manufacturing. Those are jobs that are really, actually pretty easy to come by if you have the training with lots of opportunity for advancement. So, Goodwin College for instance in that respect was interested in trying to develop a more diverse workforce and, diversity is inclusive of age. I will also mention that because of the demand in manufacturing, we have been able to develop a $10,000 scholarship. Now, it's $10,000 total for age 50 and up folks in Connecticut going back to school at one of our community colleges in the manufacturing arena. And again, those are certificate programs, so they can be obtained in under a year. One of them is even less than three months, but we can offer financial support in the amount of up to, I believe we're doing $2,000 scholarships for folks who might want to go back to school at our community colleges.

Bob Edwards: Is this an idea catching on with other colleges and universities?

Nora Duncan: We do have other colleges and universities who offer non-degree, continuing education and adult ed, and will often times provide either an AARP member offer or an age 50 or 65 and up offer for the community so that you can continue to engage your mind, whether you're applying it to go back to work or just for continued learning and experience.

Bob Edwards: How are people impacted by the program and what stories stick with you?

Nora Duncan: A woman by the name of Allison Clemens-Roberts here in Connecticut. She was laid off from her job in banking, a job which she had had for nearly 30 years. That's a big blow to realize you've been doing the same thing for quite some time and now you get the layoff notice. Alison was a vet. She served in the military. She lives around the corner from Goodwin College, and when she heard about the 25% tuition scholarship at Goodwin, it hit at just exactly the right time. She went and spoke to them about the manufacturing program at Goodwin College. She pursued the certificate. She's completed that 22 week certificate program in machining metrology and manufacturing technology. I'm learning a lot about manufacturing. And then she was able to go ahead and start working at a precision manufacturer here in Connecticut, where she continues to work full time today.

Bob Edwards: Is this just for AARP members in Connecticut?

Nora Duncan: The scholarships at Albertus Magnus and Goodwin are for AARP members from anywhere. So for instance, if you're interested in online learning, Goodwin College has programs that can be accessed with that 25% tuition scholarship from any place in the country. For the community college scholarships, that's for anybody aged 50 and up. And I just want them to be able to tell their stories so that we can help others who are age 50 and up understand the kinds of opportunities that are out there in manufacturing. So, with the manufacturing focus or a focus on any of the degrees that fall under this scholarship, AARP membership is for most of them, but not everything.

Bob Edwards: Well, sounds like a great program. Is it going to catch on?

Nora Duncan: I hope so. I hope that, especially our nonprofit colleges across the country hear about what we're doing here in Connecticut and want to take a look and start doing it in their states. I know that it's always helpful to have that extra push to go back to school if you've been thinking about it. And what more extra push can you have than some dollar savings right there in your pocket.

Bob Edwards: So where can people go to get more information about this program?

Nora Duncan: Well, you can go to AARP.org/CTdiscounts, or AARP.org/CT to learn all about what we're doing here in Connecticut and how you can participate.

Bob Edwards: Well, thank you so much.

Nora Duncan: Thank you very much.

Bob Edwards: For more resources on making a change to your career, visit AARP.org/work.

Wilma Consul: Become a subscriber on Apple podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, and other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well.

Bob Edwards: I'm Bob Edwards.

Wilma Consul: And I'm Wilma Consul.

Bob Edwards: Thanks for listening.

Heading back to school? Listen in to learn about financial help for older students and how one person successfully managed a major career change all while juggling school, work and family.

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