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Center for Healthy Aging upgraded to Institute

September 9, 2020

For Dr. Pamela Elfenbein, two facts are clear and relevant. About 30% of the population areas of our region will be 65 or older in the next decade, and that generation will need a workforce to meet its needs.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) has taken proactive steps to educate and supply those workers and serve the growing senior citizen population by upgrading its Center for Healthy Aging to an Institute for Healthy Aging.

Dr. Chaudron Gille, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said the Center for Healthy Aging had grown under Elfenbein's leadership as its director. While its outreach programs and partnerships thrived and expanded, the center couldn't award certificates or degrees.

"Recently, we explored introducing a nexus degree in caregiving. It's more than an associate degree but less than a bachelor's degree," Gille said. "As it was the brainchild of the Center for Healthy Aging, then we thought the center should offer that, which meant it needed to be an institute."

She took the proposal to UNG's cabinet, which reclassified the center as an institute. Under the new designation, the Institute for Healthy Aging oversees the academic gerontology programs, develops major programs of study and confers certificates and eventually degrees. The institute now may progress with the proposal to implement a Nexus degree at UNG.

Elfenbein said a new degree would directly meet the workforce need in the community.

2020-09-08-Pamela-Elfenbein

Dr. Pamela Elfenbein is the director of the newly reclassified Institute for Healthy Aging. UNG upgraded the program from a center to an institute, which can now award certificates and eventually degrees.

"As an Institute for Healthy Aging, we will streamline our ability to grow the academic programs for gerontology within UNG," she said.

Currently, UNG offers a trio of studies in gerontology, including an interdisciplinary gerontology minor, an undergraduate gerontology certificate and a graduate gerontology certificate. All courses are fully online in the fall, spring and summer semesters.

The online graduate certificate helped Courtney Fleming re-enter the workforce after a 14-year hiatus to raise her family.

"I wanted to pursue a career in gerontology to advocate for older adults," said Fleming, who has a master's degree in social work from Louisiana State University. "This certificate program allowed me to ease back into the classroom with online coursework."

Fleming earned her graduate certificate in gerontology in May 2020. Then the 42-year-old from Suwanee, Georgia, got a job at Forsyth County Senior Services following her practicum there.

"I knew that it was a fit for me, and I knew I had a lot of ideas to contribute," Fleming said.

Elfenbein said many graduates with the gerontology certificate or minor find employment quickly. The U.S. Department of Labor has stated the gerontology industry is among the fast-growing occupations, Elfenbein said.

"We see a high need for academic programs focused on gerontology," Elfenbein said. "Gerontology touches on all academic programs from engineering to nursing to art. If you are an engineer for an automotive manufacturer, you will need to design an ergonomic seat that allows an older adult to sit comfortably and see over the steering wheel. If you are an artist, that field is expanding with older adult programming."

The increase in older adult programs and services is confirmed by the rise in the baby boomer population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 54 million Americans were age 65 and older in July 2019. That is a 34% increase from the 40.3 million Americans in that demographic in 2010.

"The Institute for Healthy Aging embraces all of the community's needs by enhancing the quality of life of older adults through programming, research, and education," Elfenbein said.

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