This article originally appeared in the Washington Park Profile and Life on Capitol Hill.

Most people think of college as a place to go at the beginning of your career. The University of Colorado Denver is reimagining higher education as a place for people at the end of their primary working years as well.

A new CU Denver program called Change Makers, launching in January, will bring experienced professionals who are approaching or already in retirement back to college for a semester to explore possibilities, retool, and renew their purpose.


Midlife is filled with transitions, not all of them easy. The good news is that at this stage of life, people’s experience, skills, and wisdom have never been greater – or more needed in the world.

New options for a new life stage
Longer lifespans due to health advances over the last century have led sociologists to define a whole new life stage – an average extra 30 years after the family-raising, profession-building years. Yet careers are often still expected to end when people are in their 60s, with ripple effects on those in their 50s.

Choices at this stage have traditionally been full-time work or full-time leisure. But many people are now looking at retirement differently than previous generations did; they want something in between.

Some need to continue earning a salary to support longer lifespans. Others are interested in staying engaged, and in giving back to their communities. Surveys indicate a strong desire among people over 50 for continued meaningful engagement. This represents a huge untapped resource for our community.

Here is where higher education is beginning to step in. The CU Denver Change Makers program is based on the success of similar programs in other states. Unlike traditional programs for older adults that focus on learning new work skills or dabbling in a topic of intellectual interest, these programs are focused specifically on helping older adults transition well from one life stage to a new one that includes purpose and impact.

Program Starts in January
Change Makers’ inaugural class will begin in January and continue through April. The four-month program will be held in a hybrid in-person/online format, meeting twice each week. The instructor, who has decades of experience leading programs for older adults in transition, will lead discussions on navigating transition and thinking differently about the next stage. In a tailored seminar series, participants will hear from experts on issues relating to aging and retirement. And with opportunities to audit CU Denver classes and an optional applied internship in a nonprofit or social enterprise, fellows will explore areas of interest and growth and develop a plan for using their wisdom in a new, fulling context.

The goal of Change Makers is to make change – in the participants themselves and in their communities.

Universities do this with younger students all the time. Why not later in life as well?

Michelle Marks has been chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver since July 2020.  

Disclosure: The editor’s wife works at UCD and is involved in this program.

UPDATE: This article was updated on Dec. 2 to include the fact that the piece was originally published in Life on Capitol Hill and the Washington Park Profile. The Headline was also changed.