The recession has more high school seniors looking at community colleges as an affordable alternative to four-year programs, but as older Americans face a changing job market, they're also looking to these under-appreciated institutions as an opportunity to improve their skills.'

Even the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) -- a beacon of elitism and Ivy League arrogance -- is getting in on the act. The weekend edition reports that "The humble community college is turning out to be one of the best resources for older adults seeking new directions -- and new jobs -- in later life. From coast to coast, two-year public institutions are streamlining existing training programs and designing new ones to help people approaching retirement or facing midlife layoffs. Among the programs created so far: vocational counseling, accelerated certification in health and education specialties, and help with small-business start-ups."

If you're a mid-lifer -- or younger or older -- it's definitely worth visiting the website for your local community college to see what it has to offer. It can be a great place to pursue interests unrelated to your career or develop skills that will help you in advance in your current career. Or perhaps even develop a new one.

You can often find courses and programs for $300 or less, and financial aid is available. More and more employers are also offering to pay for all or part of lifelong learning classes for employees, recognizing that engaged and intellectually active people make better workers.

Many people also overlook the money you can save on taxes by taking classes: The Lifetime Learning Credit allows for a tax credit for 20% of expenses, up to a maximum of $10,000, for a savings of up to $2,000.

So go for it: Take a community college class. It'll broaden your horizons, make you better at your current job and maybe lead the way to a new one.

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