MADELEINE BRAND, host:
For a lot of you out there near retirement age, it's time to start over, either because you want to or because you have to. A national community-college program is training workers over the age of 50. From South Dakota, Jim Kent reports.
JIM KENT: At a time when the nation's economy is in flux and layoffs are a daily occurrence, the plus-50 program comes as a career light at the end of a very bleak unemployment tunnel. But American Association of Community Colleges Vice President Norma Kent says the country's economic shift has altered the focus for many who are entering the college program.
Ms. NORMA G. KENT (Vice President, Communications, American Association of Community Colleges): Many people who thought they were ready for retirement or thought they were ready and they find out that they don't have the resources to sustain that. So, they're looking around for new opportunities to get a new job, keep their old job, and really - it really can't be an economic boom for them.
KENT: Kent says that 15 community colleges are now offering the plus-50 crowd the training they need to help them change careers in a challenging economy. For instance, one California college is teaching folks how to mentor students who are falling behind in class.
Ms. KENT: We have another college in Washington State that's interested in engaging 50-plusers in sustainability issues. That would be things like restoring wetlands, forests and other areas. And then, we've got a number of colleges who are engaging the 50-plusers to rescale to start new businesses.
KENT: The crown jewels of South Dakota's tourist attractions are its national parks, places like Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave and Badlands Parks and the Minuteman Missile Historic Sight drew a millions of visitors each year.
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KENT: On a snowy winter morning, a dozen people have gathered at Rapid City's Western Dakota Tech Community College for the plus-50 program. They're receiving instruction on how to be a park ranger from Mount Rushmore Superintendent Gerard Baker.
Mr. GERARD BAKER (Superintendent, Mount Rushmore National Memorial): I don't care what job we're doing in a national park, we're interpreters. If we're in the restrooms, cleaning bathrooms, we're interpreters, because people are going to come in, they're going to ask you a question. As soon as you put that uniform on - I don't care if it's a National Parks Service ranger uniform, it's a volunteer uniform, it's any kind of uniform within the (unintelligible) National Parks Service - you're an interpreter.
KENT: Larry Burkhead(ph) works as an electronics specialist for the Federal Aviation Administration, but is in the process of changing careers. He says he's always had an interest in national parks.
Mr. LARRY BURKHEAD: I think it's very important that we all appreciate what we have here in the National Parks System and what a wonderful job that they're doing in maintaining our parks system and keeping the interest up.
KENT: So, you'd like to be a part of that?
Mr. BURKHEAD: Yeah, I would be.
KENT: As the recession continues and workers scramble to find scarce jobs, members of this plus-50 program hope to be walking on a new career path that could lead both to greater job satisfaction and job security. For NPR News, I'm Jim Kent near Wind Cave National Park.
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