Stanford pushes the envelope for higher ed on midlife career change

Dr. Philip Pizzo,  founder of Stanford's Distinguished Careers Institute.

Dr. Philip Pizzo, founder of Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute.

Is college wasted on the young? Dr. Philip Pizzo might not go that far, but he does hope to turn the world of higher education on its head by getting universities to focus on an older student body – much older than the typical twenty-something undergraduate.

Pizzo, a pioneering oncologist and former dean of Stanford University’s School of Medicine, is the founder of the university’s Distinguished Careers Institute (DCI), which welcomed its first class of 25 fellows this month – all in their fifties and sixties. The DCI is founded on the idea that most people will follow more than one career path in their lifetimes – especially with rising longevity – and that higher education needs to adapt to that new reality by welcoming older students back for what he calls “personal transformation.”

Pizzo – who just turned 70 and arguably is launching his own next act with the institute after a distinguished career in medicine that includes stints at the National Institutes of Health, Harvard University and his turn running Stanford’s medical school. DCI’s mission is to help established leaders in their field get ready for new role with social impact at the local, national or global level through a one-year study program.

The DCI is similar to an existing program at Harvard University, the Advanced Learning Initiative – both are focused on elite “C-suite” leaders looking to transform the second half of their careers, and both are expensive. The Stanford DCI costs $60,000, not including housing; tuition and other costs of the Harvard program are similar.

Barbara Vacarr, EncoreU

Barbara Vacarr, EncoreU also is working to enlist higher education to help foster midlife career transitions. The San Francisco-based group’s EncoreU initiative is pushing universities to focus on older students making career changes. Last year, EncoreU hired a fulltime director – Barbara Vacarr, a former college president – and it is embarking on a strategy aimed at change and innovation in higher education. “The objective is a President’s Pledge, much like the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment and Campus Compact that in this case outlines the elements of age friendly (encore) institutions–institutions that leverage the wealth of human capital that lives in the largest fastest growing,” EncoreU told me in a statement.

EncoreU plans to convene a group of higher education leaders this fall, and will be convening a group of provosts and senior administrators in a day-long EncoreU summit to be hosted at New York University this spring.

I interviewed Pizzo for my Reuters Money column this week, and talked with him last summer.



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