Episode #6: Back to School: Are Professional Certification Programs Worth It?

December 22, 2015 · 27:05
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Grieving after the death of her husband many years ago, Sandra Kollath’s sister finally told her she had to get out of the house and start doing something to help deal with her unhappiness. She signed Sandra up for a quilt making class.  A lifelong passion was ignited for Sandra.

For the past 15 years, Sandra has been a professional nanny. But at age 58, she’s gone back to school to change careers.  She’s getting certified to become a professional quilting instructor. Surprised? Turns out more and more people want to learn a craft, a desire that is creating teaching opportunities for skilled practitioners, from wood work to quilting.

We’ll hear from Sandra about why she to get this certification and how her family helped her figure whether the certificate was worth the cost. Among her savvy moves was to create a business plan. She expects her certificate will pay off in 18 months. We’ll offer up other tips for anyone considering a professional certification degree.

Chris also talks with Barbara Vacarr, Director of Encore.org’s Higher Education Initiative. They discuss the best education options for Unretirement age people and speculate on the impact of an aging population on higher education.

In this episode, we’ll learn:

  • How to know if going back to school or getting a certification is right for you.
  • A simple test to determine whether a program is worth the cost.
  • What types programs are available to older working adults and how to evaluate if they are worth your time and money.

Our listener question comes from Susan.  She asks for Chris’ advice on giving herself permission to leave her demanding and in-demand nursing job.


Explore additional resources from this episode:

There are number of good resources to learn more about and to investigate education options for those 50 and over. Two useful scholarly surveys are:

Improving Education and Training for Older Workers from the AARP Public Policy Institute. It’s a useful survey.

Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees from Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University

This international study by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development is interesting.  “How many students graduate outside the normal age?” in Highlights from Education at a Glance 2010, OECD.

The higher education initiative led by Encore.org. The portal offers both insight into the initiative led by Babara Vacarr and useful resources about encore in higher education in general.


To research possible programs, you could start looking at these websites:

The Plus 50 Initiative is a project to showcase programs at community colleges for learners age 50 and over.

The Lumina Foundation has a report on the Plus 50 project.

A state by state rundown of education opportunities for seniors can be found here.


Here are some articles on higher education and older workers.

Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career by Kerry Hannon

The 40-Year-Old Graduates: While the United States struggles to encourage older Americans to enroll in college, Sweden has made adult learning a popular choice for citizens by Jon Marcus

4 Ways Older Students Can Avoid Student Debt: Older students can learn for free with tuition waivers, course auditing and MOOCs by Susannah Snider

How to Make the Most of Longer Lives: Scientists are pushing to extend our lifespans. But are we ready to fill all those added days? is an inspiring article from Marc Freedman.


On the craft economy, we thought you might find this study intriguing.

Craft Artists, Income, and the U.S. Economy” is a 2011 study of the trend at


On quilting:

Quilting in America 2014 survey indicates market is worth $3.76 billion annually” according to a trade survey trying to get at the size of the quilting economy.

Quiltworx is the company from which Sandra is getting her certification.


Ask Chris your unretirement question or share your story:

If you have an unretirement question or a story for Chris, get in touch.  We are always looking for inspiring stories and try to answer as many listener questions as possible.


Join the conversation:

We love the conversations that our listeners are having about unretirement on Facebook.


This week we want to know:

Have you considered going back to school?  What would you study and why?


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