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In fact, college communities tend to be recession-resistant. Each year, a new crop of students rolls in, along with family and friends, helping to keep the economy humming. Plus, many college towns have booming health care centers that are also a good source of jobs.
Better yet, many are home to employers that are friendly to older workers. Check out AARP's Best Employers for Workers Over 50. You'll see that some of the leading names on the list are universities and health care providers in college towns.
Winners in 2011 include Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina in Durham, N.C., hometown of Duke University; West Virginia University in Morgantown; the University of Pittsburgh; and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
Some schools make a special effort to appeal to older workers. Penn State University, for instance, has a retirement community on campus that offers residents free college classes and priority tickets to games. For culture buffs, the Penn State Center for the Performing Arts presents music, dance and theater.
One good way to learn about job openings is the HR pages of a school's website. Or check the site higheredjobs.com. You can screen by location, institution, job title, category and full time or part time. The big job board Indeed, which is available via AARP's website, also lists university-oriented opportunities.
Here are five job categories that could hold a future for you. Be prepared to undergo standard background checks and drug tests. Pay scales, which vary based on factors such as experience and location, are primarily derived from U.S. Department of Labor data.
1. Athletic event ticket services
The nitty-gritty: Team spirit counts. You don't have to dress up as the mascot, but you'll be the one juggling urgent ticket requests from well-heeled donors, eager alumni, university staffers needing a last-minute favor, students and die-hard fans. The work may be by phone, Internet, regular mail or in-person at a customer service window.
The key is a knack for solving the customer's troubles fast. You must also be up to speed on rules — national ones or your own university's. You might supervise interns and student workers.
Be sure to clear your weekend social schedule for home games.
Median pay: $10 to $20 per hour. At the University of Virginia, the hiring range for a recent posting was $10.65-$11.50.
Qualifications: A background in customer service, administration and clerical duties; strong oral and written communication skills; basic computer skills.
2. Alumni event planning
The nitty-gritty: Multitasking can take on a whole new meaning in this position. This is detail-oriented work that requires lots of behind-the-scenes labor leading up to a major event such as a class reunion or campus conference. Now and then you might take the show on the road to alums in their hometowns.
The hours can really pile up out as the big day approaches and during the event itself, which is often on a weekend or evening. You could be scheduling speakers, drafting a program agenda, registering guests, coordinating transportation and setting up audio/visual equipment. You might handle contract negotiations to book off-campus venues and hire outside parties such as photographers, musicians or florists.
Median pay: $21.76 per hour
Qualifications: Ease with computers, including social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and a knack for managing a budget. Experience in hospitality, catering or public relations will help. Some colleges offer continuing education courses in event planning; the Convention Industry Council offers the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) credential, a voluntary certification for meeting and convention planners.
3. Career center counselor
The nitty-gritty: This one's for your inner mentor. It offers you a chance to give back some of your own career expertise. Think of yourself as a matchmaker: you put students and alums together with something they love through networking, suggestions, employer interviews, internships and more.
You'll probably find yourself the interpreter of a battery of vocational assessment tests. You hone résumés and cover letters with smooth wordsmithing. You dole out dress-for-success and etiquette advice for interviews. You rehearse your charges with mock interviews. Chances are, you'll be called to develop and present career education workshops for small groups and help run career fairs.
Median pay: $25.67 per hour.
Qualifications: Familiarity with national career trends and labor markets. Experience in general counseling, career counseling, human resources, education or career development.
The International Coach Federation has a list of certification programs and offers its own certification. Recognition as a National Certified Counselor or licensing as a professional counselor is sometimes preferred. Some employers might require a master's degree in counseling or higher education.
Need more information on counseling? The Bureau of Labor Statistic's Occupational Outlook Handbook suggests the American Counseling Association, the National Career Developers Association and the National Board for Certified Counselors.
4. University bookstore retail specialist
The nitty-gritty: Bookworms, take note. This job requires more than a passion for reading. You've got to be a cool and organized person to take charge in this venue. The campus bookstore is a central hub of campus life. There are all those textbooks to sell. And visitors stop in to purchase a T-shirt or pair of socks with the school's logo; on home game football weekends in the fall, the store can be a madhouse. Be prepared to be on your feet for long periods. You'll be directing shoppers and stocking the sales floor. Some lifting is involved. It's likely you'll be ordering merchandise, too, and at peak hours putting in time at the cash register.
Median pay: $10.09 per hour. (The University of Virginia was recently offering $10.61 to $19.81 per hour.)
Qualifications: Basic computer skills and retail experience. Customer service skills, knowledge of merchandising and ability to multitask.
5. Shuttle bus driver
The nitty-gritty: If you like to drive, climb aboard. You cruise the campus byways in university transit wheels. The routes are clearly set and you keep to a regular schedule. You might occasionally have to give directions or help someone on or off the bus.
Heavy traffic is not usually a problem unless it's a city campus. Bad weather can make road conditions dicey. If you drive the night shift, your riders might get a little exuberant. You'll usually be the one in charge of checking the tires, lights and oil.
Median pay: $13.51 an hour. Range: $8.45 to $20.98 per hour.
Qualifications: You must have a commercial drivers license (CDL) in good standing and undergo some short training that will include a driving course and practice of various maneuvers with a bus. The qualifications for getting a CDL vary by state, but normally include both knowledge and driving tests. Your vision and hearing will be checked too. States have the right to withhold a license from someone who's had a CDL suspended by another state.
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Kerry Hannon is the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job.