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Ready for Your Next Act?

Higher education has a new buzzword: Encore!

Higher education has a new buzzword: Encore!


More colleges and universities are offering programs geared to older adults seeking fulfilling encore careers.

Are you ready for your second act?

The University of Minnesota is launching a new program aimed at older adults nearing or in retirement who aren’t ready to punch out of the workplace for good — and who hope to make a meaningful contribution in a second, so-called encore, career.

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The Advanced Careers Institute (UMAC) will open this fall at the school’s Minneapolis-St. Paul campus and is geared toward students 55 and over. According to a report at, the first semester of the year-long program will be spent participating in seminars and workshops with other fellows, meeting with faculty, auditing classes and fostering an “intergenerational learning exploration.” 

“We really want the fellows to create a community of learning and benefit from the experiences of one another," UMAC founding director Phyllis Moen, who also teaches sociology at the school, told NextAvenue. "And we look forward to them having meaningful exchanges with our younger students, as well.”

During the program’s second semester, fellows will volunteer for up to 20 hours per week in nonprofit organizations and work with career coaches to discover how best to utilize their skill set in their encore career. One interesting aspect of this semester is there is no requirement that the nonprofit placement be near the school — the work can be anywhere, so those interested shouldn’t let the shivery prospect of a Minnesota winter dissuade them.

The new program is part of the latest trend in higher education: luring older adults back to campus as they reach retirement age. Two of the best-known endeavors — the Distinguished Careers Institute at Stanford University and the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard — attract mostly retiring C-suite executives and other high-powered corporate types. Impressive professional achievement will be a consideration for placement into the new Minnesota program, as well, but intangibles — including an openness to mentor younger students, a demonstrated commitment to learning new things and the willingness to embrace community — also will be important attributes for admission.

“It’s more about your attitude than your résumé,” said Kate Schaefers, executive director of UMAC. “We are not limiting it based strictly on a degree or a job title.”

While the Harvard and Stanford programs carry an annual tuition bill of upwards of $50,000, the Minnesota program will be far more affordable, costing $7,500 before room, board and other expenses. Minnesota’s standing as a public school also makes its new program unique, and the school hopes to offer a model that can be emulated by other state institutions.

Gap years, it turns out, may not just be for young adults anymore.

“Fifty years from now, no one’s going to think of universities as places just for people in their teens and 20s,” Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford’s Center on Longevity, recently told Bloomberg News. “If you’re going to live to 100 or older, you’re likely going to have to return to school several times as an adult to learn what’s new.”

For its first year, which begins Sept. 5, the UMAC program plans to admit 10 fellows. Anyone interested may submit an application via the school’s web site

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