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How to Start a Second-Act Career in a College Town

Five ways to find full- or part-time work in a lovely, lively environment

posted by Nancy Collamer, November 15, 2013 More by this author

University building

Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a career coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. Her website is MyLifestyleCareer.com; on Twitter she is @NancyCollamer.


University building
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With picturesque campuses, plentiful entertainment options and well-educated residents, college towns are an attractive place for people over 50. Another plus: If you’re looking for a full-time job or just a way to supplement your retirement income through part-time work, college towns offer all kinds of possibilities.
 
And it’s not just the educational institutions that are doing the hiring in these communities.

Many large universities and colleges are connected to top-notch medical centers, research facilities, arts organizations and charming downtowns that provide a variety of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, too.
 
(MORE: How to Create a Profitable Second-Act Career)
 
College towns tend to have relatively low unemployment rates. They’re often immune to recessions due to a steady influx of new students.
 
Of course, finding work in a college town means you’ll be competing against a large pool of younger, cheaper and tech-savvy talent: undergrads looking for part-time jobs and newly minted grads hoping to snag their first “real” job. That’s why it’s important to target positions where your experience, maturity and flexibility will be seen as an asset.
 
Here are five age-friendly options to consider for launching a second-act career in a college town:
 
1. Adjunct professor If you’ve spent your working years more or less in one industry and enjoy sharing your expertise, consider a job as an adjunct professor. Adjuncts contract to teach on an “as needed” basis — meaning this type of job is best for people who prefer part-time schedules. Some adjuncts teach just one course a semester; others teach several.
 
As colleges struggle to contain costs (much to the chagrin of full-time professors), they’ve become increasingly dependent upon adjuncts to supplement their full-time tenured faculty.
 
(MORE: A Manual for Encore Careers)

At community colleges and trade schools, a bachelor’s or master’s degree is usually sufficient to get hired. But most universities require adjuncts to satisfy the same degree requirements as their full-time faculty (meaning you will likely need a Ph.D.).

Pay for adjunct professors varies quite a bit. At community colleges, it’s typically around $1,500 per course. Private universities generally offer more  — often roughly $4,000 per course.
 
To learn more about a school’s specific hiring requirements and needs, go to the employment page of its website or search for jobs on the Chronicle of Higher Education site.
 
2. Alumni programs coordinator or administrator Colleges have a vested interest in keeping alumni engaged with their alma mater — involved alums are far more likely to make donations. As a result, most schools now offer a robust menu of alumni programs that include career services, social events and group travel programs. Since most grads taking advantage of them tend to be older, alumni relations is an area where your age and experience can play in your favor.
 
(MORE: 6 Ways Colleges Help Alumni Find Jobs)
 
Before applying, think about which job best matches your expertise and skills. For example, if you’re an attorney with experience recruiting new hires, you might be suitable for a career-services position at a law school. If you have strong administrative and planning skills, a job organizing alumni events, such as class reunions or on-campus educational weekends, might be up your alley. 
 
Some schools only hire their grads to work in alumni services, others are happy to hire anyone who’s a good fit. To find one of these jobs, consult the HigherEdJobs website, a college’s online employment listings and its alumni magazine or newsletter.
 
3. Temp jobs  Just like their corporate counterparts, many colleges depend on temporary workers to supplement their professional and administrative staff throughout the year.
 
For example, at the University of Virginia (U.Va.) in Charlottesville, Va., current postings for temporary positions cover a wide range of jobs, including security worker ($11.50 an hour), accountant ($15+ an hour) and HR consultant ($22 to $40 an hour).
 
Connie English, director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the Darden Business School, told me about a current U.Va. temp worker who had been a vice president of business development for many years.
 
“In the twilight of his career he wanted to have meaningful work, but was having a hard time getting another full-time gig,” said English. “With the idea of project work in mind, he signed up to be a temp and has been working on special projects for the last six months and loving it. He’s using his finance and project management skills without the headaches of organizational politics, while making a difference at the same time.”
 
4. Jobs with cultural institutions College towns are typically rich in arts and cultural institutions, such as museums, theaters and symphonies. For example, Durham N.C., home to Duke University, boasts 13 historic sites, six nature and science centers, three arts centers and hosts numerous cultural events and arts festivals.
 
If you’re in your 50s or 60s, you might find an arts position alluring. “Working in the arts is very attractive to people in this age group,” says Garry Crites, Ph.D., director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke. “Several of our members have worked or volunteered with arts institutions in town, including the North Carolina Symphony and the Carolina Ballet.”
 
While many jobs at cultural groups are staffed by volunteers, there are also paid staff positions. They range from part-time, hourly work paying close to minimum wage (such as usher, gift shop clerk or box office sales) to full-time, management-level jobs.
 
To find jobs with arts and cultural institutions, visit the employment opportunities pages of their websites.
 
5. Consultant or adviser Did you know that a number of major companies, like Dell and Cisco, got started in college settings? That’s because some schools are centers of innovation, creating technologies that spin off into commercial ventures. Those start-ups often turn to experienced business, legal and scientific professionals for consulting advice on topics such as licensing, patents and government regulations.
 
Some of these consulting opportunities can be found by contacting a college’s innovation center. Schools such as U.Va., Ohio State, Carnegie Mellon and Colorado State have such centers.
 
But networking may be your best bet to land one of these consulting gigs. So don’t be shy about connecting with people you know at colleges — or people you know who might know the right folks — through LinkedIn, email, phone calls or in-person meetings.
 
After all, you don’t have to be a teenager to make a college visit.