The U.S. university system is arguably one of the nation's greatest assets for young students. Meanwhile, Encore.org would like to become one of the greatest assets for older students by harnessing schools to help alumni, employees and the public launch encore careers that "give back" – what the San Francisco nonprofit calls "second acts for the greater good."
Encore.org recently changed its name from Civic Ventures. Founded in 1997 by Marc Freedman, it has helped popularize the notion of encore careers and has grown with the ranks of aging baby boomers. While once derided for being self-absorbed, large numbers of boomers are looking to reinvent themselves in their later years and find socially meaningful work.
"We know from our research that a lot of people at this stage of life are interested in this," says Judy Goggin, an Encore.org vice president who heads its efforts to engage colleges and universities in programs that help people launch second acts.
Community colleges have emerged as flexible and inexpensive sources for providing needed expertise that can be tailored to the needs of older students, and Goggin has spent much of the past few years working with community colleges to develop these programs.
Encore.org's role is not to operate or even direct such efforts. Instead, it works to identify and help shape early-adapter programs that can serve as models for other colleges. Then, it seeks ways to leverage this work and scale up the models for broader use. Having done this with a number of community colleges, it partnered with the American Association of Community Colleges, and with funding from the Deerbrook Charitable Trust, is in the second year of an effort to enroll 100 community colleges in encore career programs.
Now, Encore.org and Goggin have turned their attention to four-year colleges as part of what's informally known within the organization as Encore U. Early efforts have involved programs and discussions with a growing circle of schools that includes business schools at Harvard University, Stanford University, Portland State University, Princeton University, Tulane University and the University of Washington.
"Universities are looking for models, they're looking for blueprints and they're looking for ways how to do this," Goggin says. "Our job right now is to raise the awareness in higher education of this opportunity ... It's very early in the 'What does this look like?' stage."
One model would be to get the university involved as the employer, Goggin explains. Encore career programs "could, if they do it right, bring those talents and resources back to the universities."
There is another self-interest component of such efforts, she adds. The faculty mix at many universities has become top-heavy with older, tenured professors who, for many reasons, resist retiring. Encore career programs "represent a pull into retirement" for this group, Goggin says. "Universities would like to see that because there is too much of a logjam at the top."
There are also university encore career educational and training efforts geared to the general public. Models of such efforts might include "everything from a weekend reunion program to a yearlong certification program," Goggin says.
One approach that interests Encore.org would be modeled after the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard – a yearlong program for retired and older participants interested in re-evaluating their professional and personal priorities. "It's really like a gap year to figure out what you want to do next," she says. "These people spend $55,000 to figure out their next step ... We'd like to figure out a way to do this for $10,000."
As it did with the community college effort, Encore.org wants to encourage and identify solid models that universities can easily adopt and embrace. And then it wants to help scale these efforts and get out of the way. "Our big goal is to get this in as many places as possible, as fast as possible," Goggin says.