Silicon Valley community college wants the 50-plus crowd
West Valley College is one of two campuses in the West Valley-Mission Community College District, alongside Mission College. The district is looking to bolster its student enrollment by reaching the senior community. File photo.

    It’s never too late to go back to school, and one Silicon Valley community college district wants to welcome older adults as it looks to fill its student ranks.

    The West Valley-Mission Community College District is releasing a survey in May to garner ideas on how to make higher education age-friendly. Advocates said increasing education access for seniors—categorized as people 65 and older—is a long-term solution to address declining enrollment in community colleges, while also serving the region’s oldest residents.

    “We’re looking for as many ways to engage with this community as we can, whether it’s through curriculum, whether it’s through the social aspects or whether it’s through wellness,” Bradley Davis, district chancellor, told San José Spotlight.

    Davis said the amount of older adults attending college in the district is increasing, while overall student enrollment plummets countywide as families flee Silicon Valley for less expensive areas. The survey will provide recommendations on new classes, as well as ways to improve the atmosphere for older adults across the district’s two campuses—West Valley College in Saratoga and Mission College in Santa Clara.

    AARP San Jose Regional Director Sophie Horiuchi-Forrester said creating space for seniors in higher education can have a positive impact on younger generations. AARP is a nonprofit that generally serves individuals 50 years and older.

    “Seeing older adults on college campuses could (enrich) diversity and the learning experience for everyone,” Horiuchi-Forrester told San José Spotlight. “The reality is, today’s workforce spans multiple generations as people live and work longer. Having various generations in a classroom can help prepare future employees on how to work and interact across generations.”

    Tylor Taylor, executive director for the Saratoga Area Senior Coordinating Council, said community colleges have the ability to help seniors return to school, find work and form community bonds, often at little to no cost. The senior council is partnering with the West Valley-Mission Community College District to release the survey. The first survey is geared toward Saratoga residents and will be released in May, with results available in July. A second survey will be released in Santa Clara in June, with results available in August.

    “A lot of people feel like they’re a burden on their families or on society. They don’t tend to want to ask for help or be seen as needing help,” Taylor told San José Spotlight. “Community colleges are unique because their barriers to entry are low.”

    The region is facing a “silver tsunami,” but remains ill-equipped to support the population as it ages. A 2023 city audit report shows 60% of San Jose residents think the city isn’t an ideal place to retire, citing the lack of public transportation and affordable housing.

    Taylor said future programs are meant to serve multiple age groups. He said courses should include pathways to certifications for students to get work in fields focused on older residents, such as caretaking positions or coding jobs, to bridge the digital divide for seniors.

    Davis said focusing on seniors is a win-win. Community colleges are able to boost enrollment numbers while also acting as a community space to address a senior’s basic needs, mental health and education.

    “In the West Valley-Mission Community College District we know and we have known for a while that the demographics are changing,”  Davis told San José Spotlight. “We are going directly to the folks that we intend to serve, and we’re asking the senior community to respond.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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