Work & Money

Free School: A Secret Benefit for Seniors

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?


49 responses to “Free School: A Secret Benefit for Seniors

  1. I am a senior of 75 years of age. Most colleges I have searched provide free tuition on an “audit” basis. This to me no not worth it for someone who wants to take a course, do the work, and get credit leading to a degree (undergrad or advanced. I have an MBA and am interested in a Ed. D. so far most or all doors are closed. I don’t want to audit (be a fly on the wall) classes. for me it’s a waste of time. I think a senior who wants to advance his education should receive credit for the class. There are plenty of degree granting sources out there. Some even from well known universities. To further my education I am taking a certification course for TEFL (Teaching English as Foreign Language) there are plenty jobs out there. Just a thought…

  2. How can I find out about all the” Retired Persons” programs (or IRPE’s) in New York City. I know about one at Brooklyn College and one at the New School University in New York City. There is at least one more in lower Manhattan. Some are known as “IRPE’s”.

    They are most often associated with universities, i think.

  3. A more comprehensive and up-to-date listing has been posted here:

    Unfortunately, the promise of some classes available those as young as 50 seems to be a pipe dream; Louisiana law allows this at age 55, but even that is contingent on annual appropriations, and apparently it is not fully funded; UL-Lafayette, for instance, is free just for those 60+. No others even suggest free tuition for anyone under 60, except for Colorado State U, but they only allow free “visitation” of the class, which doesn’t even get recorded as an audit, let alone credit.

    1. I am 69 years young trying to further my education without having to be concerned that I do not have the funds to do so. Currently, I am just about finished with my MAED. I would like to obtain a degree in Education Leadership, in Georgia as online classes are there any programs available to help me on my journey?

      1. Have you found any resources? I’m a senior teacher as well and would like to pursue my MA . If you have any info you’d be willing to share I’d be grateful!

  4. I am seeking to complete my Doctorate degree. I have completed twenty-four semester hours. I am seventy-four years old. However, I really want to finish what I started. I need financial assistance.
    I took online courses through Walden University when I was full time teaching. Presently, I am a substitute teacher within the public schools. I retired in November, 2012.
    I would like to take online classes at a University that don’t require a residency.


    The following applies to all state supported 2 and 4 year college and universities in Oklahoma all the way from Oklahoma University in Norman Oklahoma to Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Oklahoma. Check with the admissions department. This opportunity IS NOT well publicized.

    Institutions of the state system
    are authorized to waive general enrollment and all other fees for residents
    of Oklahoma 65 years of age or older for auditing of academic courses,
    contingent upon space being available.

    * The course materials must be rented (in the case of textbooks, if they are available for rent) or purchased if necessary.

    Note the courses may be audited. No credit is issued.

  6. Sadly, Massachusetts provides a categorical waiver of tuition for seniors (and veterans) but has shifted 90% of course costs to “fees”. Basically, there are no free courses in MA. As an example: At Bridgewater State University a one-hour course costs $38 in tuition but $327.63 in “fees”. So while they will waive the $38 there is no help with the larger amount. It’s disappointing for a senior like me but it’s devastating for the youngsters who serve their country and are then abused by unscrupulous educators.

    1. @ Byron Jacobs

      That is so nice of you to think about vets!

      Shame on MA for such a devious way to screw both eligible groups out of their opportunity!

      Some 20+ years ago it was how my husband put himself through college (chemical engineering, not an easy endeavor, btw). He signed up for the Army, served during first Iraq War, was honorably discharged as a decorated veteran.
      He was able to get his university degree at UMASS, thanks to the Army paying for his tuition after he completed his service in the military.
      After graduating he started successful career. One of his career achievements was to take part in creating a very successful cancer medication.
      This was possible because every party held their end of the stick: the Army, my husband, and the university system of Massachusetts.

      I am appalled to learn that now all these honest and hardworking people, who went to the military and served their country well, are screwed up out of their promised reward by the state of Massachusetts, that they were protecting (as a part of the country) in the first place.
      So many future contributions to the wealth of the society will never happen, because these people will not be able to acquire the degree they were planning to get.
      Or they will be deep in debt after graduating (unfairly so!), and will not be able to give as much to the community as they could have.
      They might postpone their families, not buy their first home, …or be stuck in the minimum wage jobs, if they decide not to take the unexpected and hefty student after all.

      And we have not even started talking about our elder population’s potential students , who also got screwed up by MA’s greedy “big edu” big time!!

      I wonder whether such “scheming” with words and numbers is even legal, after all?

      Thank you, Byron Jacobs, for pointing this out!

      We all need to investigate into legality of what you have described. Could very well be another of those dirty games, like with predatory mortgage lending and excessive, illegal banking fees (yes, Bank of America, I am talking about you! In both cases, actually)

      1. Thank you for all what you all have done. It’s time to get over to the Captal and get those laws changed.

        When it comes to Veterans, that is what I do best and I volunteer my time.

        They want seniors to be active, well it’s time to go after those Boards and Regrets and go to the Capital to get bills passed.

        Then at the Federal level. Education gives us knowledge and the wisdom to share our legacy.

        It only takes one person with the help of a Legislative advocate to get things done.

        Like property exception. As long as you all are still paying school or property tax or that health care, on bonds etc then it is time for them to wake up that the generation of our time had to put up with both side fights.

        Go after those issues and I will continue in what brings injustice. It might be nice to get programs started for children of Veterans, since there is grant monies.


    2. You are absolutely right! 25 years ago, when my husband went to college, the ratio was not as devastating, or so he remembers. Nowadays it’s just a joke, how Big Edu twisted everything to get more…, more, more! money. Given the fact that college professors are not benefiting from this proportionally. Just the administration. As usual. Surprise.

      1. I inquired about auditing a course at a Mass State University Aug. 2016 and was told that one has to enroll in a degree program now before you are eligible to take courses at the college. So even if I were willing to pay the “fees”, because I already have a degree, I would not be allowed to register as an audit student.

    3. There are some free classes available through Umass Lowell if you take them through the Continuing Education Division. The catch is you need to take the classes on the campus and there are not too many courses available. Most are online and discounts are not available to online classes. So it is nearly impossible to finish a degree here, but if your interest is in just taking a class here and there you may want to check it out.

      1. For audit-type non-credit coursework from prestigious schools, i hope everyone knows about and MIT’s OpenCourseware. Coursera is mostly undergrad coursework from a variety of great schools, with class interaction; MIT free courses include videos, lecture notes, syllabus and textbook list, but no support-interaction, and you have to create your own peer-study group … not easy. But free learning has its merits!

    1. Hi, Rosella, I just found this site today & noticed you had written a year ago about wanting to take classes in the Atlanta area. I live in Dunwoody, I’ll be 62 and eligible for free tuition in October of this year, and have been looking forward to that aspect of aging for several years now. Did you ever find a college and classes to take? I’m looking mostly toward the Perimeter College so I can take some classes in person without having to travel far. I hope you were able to find what you needed.

  7. I am 68 and live in Tennessee. Two years ago I enrolled at TN Tech University, using the senior citizen tuition waiver. I am now happily pursuing my degree Bachelor in Fine Art degree, a life long dream of mine. I expect to be able to create art for at least the next couple of decades.

    1. Congrats Connie I too am a seasoned senior achieving academic goals on my bucket list.

      I just recently got my MBA and would love asst. with Law school or DBA fees. we have a few

      flying schools near my home n Atl. Ga. That too is on my bucket list t get pilot license.

      Keep up the great work, Remember let those haters be the motivators.

      Congrats Connie

    1. Kyra,

      Check your local and statewide public library system for tech classes. I live near Baltimore MD, and the BaltoCo libraries offers quite a few courses, from “how do I turn on this thing?” level on up. Howard County, 6 miles away, offers in person classes and also FREE access to online courses through I’ve completed Intro to Word 2010, Intermediate Word 2010, Intro to Excel 2010, and am now taking Intermediate Excel 2010 as well as Intro to Stocks and Bonds. (If I had taken these through the non-credit division of our local community college, they would have cost me $109 per course!)

      I’m also taking 5 credits of academic coursework through our community college for the cost of fees (Maryland colleges’ fees are about 30% of the total cost, so I’m paying 70% less than if I were under 60.) Like young’s experience, most of my old credits won’t transfer now, but even doing it the long way I’m hoping to earn a bachelor’s degree before my 17yo daughter does ;-)

      Good luck to you!

  8. I am interested in establishing a home for women victims of domestic violence. I have a BA in psychology and started a master’s in Pastoral Counseling. I need to take courses in domestic violence and management of a non profit organization. I would like to study online since I do not live in the states. I’m also interested in tuition waivers. Thank you very much.

  9. I am interested in furthering my education, you have to if you plan on continuing to work. It seems as though my previous credits are not acceptable, maybe because of the time period, so I will need to start all over, which I do not mind; however, I can no longer afford to pay for tuition, books, etc. What avenue can I take to get the free senior education, I am 60 years old living in Virginia beach va.
    Thank you!

  10. I would like to continue my education and receive my bachelor degree. I’m on a very fixed income and would like to take free credit courses to get my degree. I am a resident of Florida and would like to complete these course within 15 months or less if possible. Any advice as to how I should pursue this goal would be greatly appreciated.

  11. What can we do to volunteer in NYC to help make education for seniors or disabled more user friendly? So that seniors can keep in the present by working, which is mandatory now to stay alive.
    There is an organization called CID-NY —— Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York —— on 14th and Broadway that we participated in that OATS might know about.

  12. I’m doing it at Kansas State and having a ball. You’re right, the school doesn’t make it easy, but in my experience the professors look forward to our input. Whichever school you choose, be sure to also get internet access so you’ll get class handouts and reading assignments.

Leave a Reply

Senior Planet’s comments are open for all readers/subscribers; we love hearing from you! However, some comments are not welcome here as violations of our Comment Policy. If you would like to express a comment about Senior Planet locations or programs, please contact [email protected].

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *