Does the idea of leafing through a college catalog make you feel like a kid in a candy store – a kid whose allowance is way too small to pay high-priced tuition?
Do you crave the social opportunities offered in an intergenerational classroom? Or maybe you have a more practical reason for seeking higher learning: You’re feeling the strain of ageism in the workplace and want to get up to speed on emerging areas of employment – or start your own business.
Whatever your motivation, you’re in luck: If you do a little homework, you’ll find that there are numerous free or low-cost opportunities for you to take college-level classes. In fact, according to a 2008 study by the American Council on Education, at least 60 percent of accredited, degree-granting educational institutions nationwide offer tuition waivers for senior learners.
Tuition Waivers and Discounts
A number of colleges allow seniors to audit classes at no charge, and others offer hefty tuition discounts for classes taken for credit. More than 20 U.S. states – including New York – have mandated tuition waivers and/or discounts for older adults at public colleges and universities. Some Ivy League schools offer opportunities, too; an example is Columbia University‘s Lifelong Learners auditing program, where seniors are “silent citizens” of the classroom unless invited to speak!
Don’t worry – most schools welcome senior participation, recognizing that you have much to offer.
Curious about what types of courses are available? Here are some tasters:
- Interested in film? You could take a History of American Film seminar at UCLA by way of the university’s free Senior Scholars program.
- Maybe you’re hooked on public affairs; how about Race, Inequality and Public Policy, also at UCLA? Or if you’re in Southern Florida, you could choose a ten-week course in international relations at FSU’s St. Petersburg campus using tuition waivers for Florida seniors.
- Say you like to read crime fiction. How about taking a Cybercriminology class starting in late August at NYC’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice as a Senior Citizen Auditor? Or might Miscarriages of Justice, a fall course at USF Tampa; or Serial Killers and Psychopaths, a course about the psychology of the criminal mind starting this fall at CA State University, Long Beach, be up your (dark) alley? California’s Senior Citizen Education Program allows seniors to enroll in a course for just $3.
- On the more practical side, many colleges offer courses for would-be entrepreneurs like Georgetown’s in DC, New Venture Creation, which seniors can take under the university’s Senior Citizen Non-Degree Auditor Program.
- For random educational fun: Drama in the Archives at UT Austin, an exploration of scripts, production notes, costume designs and other ephemera from major theatrical productions that you can sample for reduced cost via Texas’s Senior Citizens Tuition Reduction Program.
- Soccer- A Mirror For Everything, part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at SF State University – a look at the World Cup and its global impact
- Arts courses in NYC include one in Popular Musics of the Caribbean at John Jay College in NYC and one in History of Photography at Hunter College; Hunter offers tuition-free admission for Senior Citizen Auditors.
- In Florida, you can take undergraduate and graduate courses at USF College of the Arts, including Theater Performance and Art History, under the Senior Citizen Audit Program.
- There are classes that didn’t exist when you were young: Sociology of Hip Hop Culture at FSU, or California Food History and Culture at UC Berkley.
How It Works
The downside of all these tempting learning opportunities? You need an advanced degree to scout the offerings in your area. States do little to publicize their waivers and discounts for seniors, and there’s no website that will give you all the answers.
In fact, every aspect of these programs – age, income, residential and educational eligibility, enrollment deadlines – varies from program to program, so you’ll have to do some web searching to learn what’s available specifically for you.
As a start, we suggest you go to the websites of universities, colleges and community colleges near you to find out what they offer. Because these programs are not well-publicized, you may have to dig a little to find the correct information. Search on the sites for terms like “lifelong learning,” “tuition waiver” and “mature students.”
Eligibility requirements The minimum age to quality for these educational bargains ranges from 50 to 65 (60 is the minimum age in New York State, 65 in Washington, DC.). Some states have an income cap. Many require proof of state residency, and some ask for documentation of retirement and/or a high school diploma. Several schools only offer these benefits on a space-available basis, occasionally requiring permission of course instructors.
What’s available Tuition waivers are restricted to credit-bearing courses at some schools, to noncredit courses at others, and are limited to auditing elsewhere. No credit is awarded for audited courses and in many cases you’re not required to complete coursework (though many instructors request active participation). Some schools offer reduced-cost tuition rather than a waiver. And in many cases, you’re still required to pay administrative fees, which can range from almost nothing to $100 per semester.
Enrollment Deadlines range anywhere from several months to a couple of weeks before classes actually start. (Note that enrollment dates and deadlines for non-degree seeking students may differ from those pursuing a degree.)
How to Search For a Local Course
No comprehensive national listing of free and reduced-cost college programs for seniors exists. One enterprising individual started compiling a site that would serve this purpose but apparently ran out of steam and then failed to update it. Still, the site – A Senior Citizen Guide for College – might be a starting point.
In New York City, Age-Friendly NYC has created a helpful and user-friendly start page for seniors looking to find suitable college courses. College Link lets you chose your areas of interest and links you to listings that include rudimentary eligibility and waiver/cost-reduction information.
To find out whether your state mandates free or reduced-cost college tuition for seniors, do a Google search for [your state] + tuition program senior citizens” (for example, “New York State + tuition program senior citizens). You can also contact your state’s Department of Aging.
Interested? There are some tantalizing fall 2014 course offerings still available, but deadlines are approaching. If you’re interested, start researching now!
What types of courses interest you?