Adults may expand their formal schooling for personal reasons or to develop new job skills. There are more than 1,000 Volkshochschulen (adult education centers) in Germany, offering courses in languages, technology, health areas, and arts and crafts. Around 7 million residents take advantage of such offerings each year.
The so-called second path (zweiter Bildungsweg) is open to adults over the age of 19 who completed tenth grade and have professional training or a three-year work record. These adults, as well as full-time homemakers, can attend evening courses to earn school completion certificates such as the Abitur and the certificate normally awarded upon completion of the Realschule. Full-time study for adults is offered in the Kolleg, which fills 32 hours a week and can last for three to four years. Participants in these programs can receive BAFöG financial support. Both full-time and part-time instructors teach adult education courses, many of them in the evening. Workers who have been unemployed for a long time may receive subsidies to cover part or most of the cost of such re-training initiatives. The Bundeanstalt für Arbeit (Federal Agency for Work) sponsors a retraining program for workers suffering from long-term unemployment. Labor unions, churches, and private businesses also maintain continuing education facilities and programs. A half-dozen universities offer non-degree programs for senior citizens.
While distance learning was widespread in the German Democratic Republic, it did not appear in West Germany until 1975 with the founding of the university at Hagen in North Rhine-Westphalia. Now the university has more than 50,000 students, with more than 50 percent of them part-time; the largest number study economics and education. It operates 60 regional study centers throughout Germany.
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