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Wanted: More College Classes to Launch an Encore Career

Some schools have abandoned the idea, but Pace U. has a winner


Say you’re in your 50s or 60s with an itch to leave your job for one with more purpose. In other words, you want to launch an encore career. With no idea how, you decide to look for a college class that offers people like you a starter’s guide to encore careers.

Sadly, you’ll likely be out of luck.

The number of colleges and universities offering courses on starting second acts for the greater good is pitifully low and, based on my reporting, shrinking. (I’ll tell you about a great one at Pace University in New York City shortly, however.)

“A lot of universities are trying to find the correct home [for an encore course] and where to get support for it,” said Jim Emerman, executive vice president at Encore.org, who supervises the nonprofit’s EncoreU higher education initiative. “It’s fairly improvisational right now. There’s a lot of experimentation and no model has emerged as the right model.”

I’ve been looking into what nonprofits can offer and encore careers are a lot bigger than I thought. It’s a whole movement.

— John, student in Pace U. Encore Transition Program

As Joan Tucker, director of Pace University’s Encore Transition Program, told me: for colleges, “money is always an issue.”

The State of Encore Career Classes

That’s an understatement. After reporting on the current state of encore classes, I discovered:

  • UCLA Dean of Continuing Education and UCLA Extension Wayne Smutz has been unsuccessful launching his EncoreU initiative. Extension classes there are self-supporting, funded by tuition paid by students. Smutz told me that it’s been difficult finding midlifers who’d pay what UCLA would need to charge; a UCLA certificate costs $6,000 to $10,000. “When people get to age 50 to 55 and are closing in on retirement, they begin to get very conservative with their discretionary dollars unless they’re very well off,” said Smutz. “And that’s not the group that typically needs training.”
  • The proposed “Encore University” at Tulane University in New Orleans, for alumni and community members, never got past the pilot stage.
  • Wagner University, in Staten Island, N.Y., has suspended pursuing its planned LifeLong Encore launch that I heard about at the Encore.org conference in February.
  • Two excellent, small programs for exploring second acts, from Stanford University (Distinguished Careers Institute) and Harvard University (Advanced Leadership Institute) are extremely expensive. The third group of students attending Stanford’s one-year program will be charged $63,500 apiece in 2017, for instance. Founding director Dr. Philip Pizzo tells me, however, that the Distinguished Careers Institute has begun offering “limited financial assistance to students with public service-type backgrounds” on a case-by-case basis.

If only more colleges would replicate what Pace University is doing with its Encore Transition Program. Now in its fourth year, Pace’s series of three evening workshops and online resources has offered 10 programs to 123 students. “Pace has clearly found a good home for it and a good model,” said Emerman.

Inside an Encore Career Class

When I sat in on one of its classes recently, I heard the 19 midlife students riff on their search for more meaning in their lives and careers. Some were out of work; some were employed, but eager to make a career switch.

“I’ve been looking into what nonprofits can offer and encore careers are a lot bigger than I thought. It’s a whole movement,” said John, who formerly worked in IT. Erica, a diagnostic radiologist, was interested in finding “more joy in the rest of my life.” Tom, a medical malpractice defense attorney for 20 years, wanted to “figure out how to apply my skills to the nonprofit sector.”

Tucker told me her program bubbled up out of a conversation she had with Stephen Friedman, Pace’s president. Friedman had had an encore career of his own. After being forced to take mandatory retirement at his white-shoe law firm, Debevoise & Plimpton, where he was a senior partner, he grabbed the opportunity to serve as dean of Pace’s law school. Three years later, in 2007, Pace’s board tapped him to become president.

“While he was looking for his encore career, he started thinking: ‘There are so many people like me who don’t want to retire in the traditional sense. There should be a program to help with what could be a traumatic time,” said Tucker.

Tucker agreed, partly from her own personal experience. “I floundered around a bit after I left Pace” in 2001; she’d been its executive vice president for university advancement. So Tucker and Friedman started talking about encore careers and giving back. Soon, the Pace Encore Transition Program was born.

“Many of our alumni are in wonderful new jobs or projects,” said Tucker. “One is now director of Encore.org’s Encore Fellowships in the Northeast.”

The ideal time to take an encore career course (if you can find one), said Tucker, “is while you’re still working and begin to see down the tunnel that you’re not going to want to do this forever or that your company is not going to want you there forever.”

Expanding the Encore Program

Tucker said she’d love to take her program into companies and introduce the encore career concept to their employees. “This should be a benefit to employees around the country. There are 78 million boomers and many can’t afford to retire,” said Tucker.

Some firms told Tucker they’re “already doing this” with outplacement for downsized employees. “But that’s not the same thing as what we’re doing,” she said. “It’s like taking a shoemaker and trying to help him find another job making shoes. We’re trying to give people a new perspective on the second half of life.”

Aside from exposing more midlifers to the notion of encore careers, taking the program to corporations would also broaden the business model for Pace. But, Tucker, concedes, “It’s a hard sell. There’s nothing in it for companies other than goodwill.”

She’d also like the Pace program to be a role model for other colleges. “Every college and university could have something like this,” said Tucker. “We’d be happy to design programs. The potential for this is enormous.”

The next Pace University Encore Transition Program (featuring an overview of the nonprofit sector, networking with nonprofit pros and career coach, resume and social media tutorials, a preview of nonprofit job opportunities and a strategy for identifying and achieving goals) runs Nov. 14 to Nov. 17; cost: $795, with a $50 discount until Nov. 1.

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