Seniors May Benefit from Free or Reduced College Tuition

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Having nothing but free time after retiring from a stressful job may seem ideal. A few months into retirement, some older adults wonder what to do with themselves.

Reentering the work force is one possibility, but full-time work tends to defeat the purpose of retirement. Working part-time or creating a work-from-home job might provide the opportunity to use skills developed over a lifetime without subjecting a senior to the stress and inflexible schedule of full-time employment. Volunteering is another way to fill time with useful and rewarding activity.

Some seniors regret that they didn’t attend college, dropped out before earning a degree, or opted for a degree that would enhance employability rather than studying subjects they enjoyed. Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn new things. Older adults may want to use their free time to enrich their minds by taking college courses.

Health Benefits of an Active Brain

Medical researchers do not understand all the causes of dementia, but high blood pressure and diabetes seem to be contributing factors. Researchers have also discovered a link between education and dementia. The longer a person stays in school, the less likely the person is to develop Alzheimer’s or other diseases that affect cognitive ability.

The reason for that link isn’t obvious. People with better educations might be less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise. They might be more likely to have health insurance or more willing to follow a doctor’s treatment plan for diseases that may contribute to dementia.

Most researchers regard physical exercise that pumps blood to the brain as the best safeguard against dementia. On the other hand, some evidence suggests that challenging the brain may help older people retain memory and cognitive skills. While there is scant evidence that commercial “brain training” programs are effective, activities that require the brain to learn something new (from playing a new instrument to studying a new language) may protect against dementia by strengthening connections between brain cells.

Resources for College Courses

Most people who value education never want to stop learning. Regardless of potential health benefits, continuing an education later in life can be a satisfying and emotionally enriching experience.

A recent survey of colleges and universities by The Penny Hoarder discovered that every state offers waived or reduced tuition for older students (typically those who have reached the age of 60). Florida Atlantic University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers non-credit courses in music, art, history, science, literature, philosophy, foreign policy, and other subjects at two campus locations. California State University waives tuition for California residents who are at least age 60 in certain classes at all campuses, provided that space is available after students who have paid tuition have finished registering.

Some institutions permit older students to audit courses without earning degree credit. Others give older students the same opportunity as students who pay full tuition to earn an undergraduate degree. A few states also offer reduced tuition for seniors who want to pursue a postgraduate degree. Even when no statewide program for tuition waivers exists, some colleges and universities within a state offer their own programs.

Paying students may be given priority in high-demand classes. However, older students may also have the option of attending classes online when in-person space is unavailable.

State colleges often limit the benefit of free or low-cost senior education to state residents. A few states make reduced tuition available only to low-income seniors. Some states offer only the benefit in two-year colleges or for lower-level courses. Schools may limit the number of free classes a senior can take each semester.

Encouraging older students to enroll increases diversity on college campuses. Most colleges believe that education is enhanced when students of different backgrounds share their unique perspectives. Older students bring valuable real-life experience to classroom discussions. At the same time, attending classes with young people helps older students reconnect with the idealism they felt when they were still in their twenties. 

Seniors who want to continue their education should browse the websites of public and private universities and colleges in their states. The website of their state Department of Education may also offer important information about programs that reduce or waive tuition for seniors.

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