BEMIDJI -- Northwest Technical College recently announced the addition of a new academic program in Gerontology and Aging Care, set to begin in the spring semester of 2021.

The curriculum, focused on the scientific study of aging, will respond to the demand for well-trained eldercare specialists in the wake of unprecedented growth in life expectancy and aging populations.

“During this time of heightened health concerns and with our growing senior population, we need skilled workers who know how to provide eldercare and services,” NTC Vice President of Academic Affairs Darrin Strosahl said in the release.

The State of Minnesota’s Demographic Center predicts that by as early as 2020, the state’s population of those over the age of 65 will become greater than its population of K-12 school-aged children. Students who complete the program with the knowledge and expertise in the field of geriatrics, aging and associated issues, the release said.

Wendy Potratz, an instructor in NTC’s community health worker program and co-founder of the gerontology program, said that with aging comes a variety of health issues that need specific care. The addition of a progressive gerontology curriculum opens an untapped market for entry-level caretakers.

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“NTC’s Gerontology and Aging Care program is one of the first of its kind,” she said in the release. “We have recognized the industry needs to provide knowledgeable and confident caregivers for our aging population. This program will also be a great add-on for professionals already working in a variety of industries who recognize their need to be aware of how we can better serve our mature citizens.”

Alicia Carley, an NTC biology instructor and co-founder of the gerontology program, said the demographic shift in aging was key when she and Potratz proposed the curriculum to NTC administrators.

“By the year 2030, one in five Minnesotans will be considered an older adult and the youngest baby boomers will be turning 66,” she said. “In response to this shift in demographics, several state agencies formed the Aging 2030 initiative to prepare Minnesota for a future where people both live well and age well.”

Graduates of NTC’s Gerontology and Aging Care program will possess the skills needed to provide quality service to an aging population and their families that can lead to, or supplement, a wide variety of career pathways related to psychology, economics, wellness, public policy, advocacy and service, the release said.

“The program’s goal is to increase knowledge and empathy in how we care for the aging, while also becoming aware of how we can create an atmosphere full of resources for healthy aging and improved quality of life for individuals, families and caregivers,” Potratz said.

The 18-credit certificate can be completed in two semesters and includes courses on the biological and psychological aspects of aging, elder health and end of life care.

“We are lucky to live in a state that is so progressive about preparing for the future, and here at NTC we intend to follow that lead,” Carley said in the release. “Not only do we want to be prepared for the upcoming needs in our own community, but we want to help prepare a workforce that is ready for what lies ahead.”

The Gerontology and Aging Care program at Northwest Technical College was recently accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Accreditation is a mark of quality that follows a 10-year cycle and is focused on quality assurance and institutional improvement.

Accreditation also ensures that a program’s educational processes and outcomes are congruent and that the faculty reviews those processes and outcomes regularly and makes changes when indicated.