One of my favorite public radio shows features an audience quiz, “Things You Should Have Learned in School Had You Been Paying Attention.” I love listening to the show but that quiz stumps me every week. Truth be told, I didn’t pay much attention in school because I was eager to get on with real life. What did I need math for? I had an adding machine. Why should I waste time reading when I could watch a movie?
Maybe you’re like me and you didn’t pay as much attention as you should have. Maybe you had to drop out of school for financial reasons. Or, maybe you’ve forgotten what you learned a long time ago. Fortunately, as senior citizens we have the luxury of leisure time to make up for our educational shortcomings. And for those of us living on the cheap, we don’t have to pay full-price for anything — not even for a good education.
Many colleges permit senior citizens to audit courses tuition-free. No credit is awarded for audited courses but you can work as much or as little as you want. Just fill out an application and pay an administrative fee. If space is available, you’re in. At Hunter College, residents of New York State who are 60 and older pay about $80 per semester to audit classes. The Senior Citizen Non-Degree Auditor Program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., charges $50 per course for residents age 65 and older.
Some states require state-funded institutions to provide low-income senior citizens with FREE tuition. For example, The Senior Citizens Higher Education Act of 1974 allows Virginia residents age 60 or older with an annual income of less than $15,000 to take college courses for credit without paying for tuition. In Alabama, the Senior Adult Scholarship Program provides free tuition at two-year colleges to residents 60 or older without regard to income.
With more than 100 locations, the Bernard Osher Foundation is perhaps the largest provider of low-cost education to senior citizens. Its Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes program offers courses tailored to the needs of students over 50. At Northwestern University, seniors enrolled in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program pay an annual fee of $150 to $550 for serious courses in neuroscience, foreign affairs and poetry, as well as some not-so-serious classes on jazz and movie appreciation.
To find out whether your home state is one of more than 20 states mandating free or discounted college tuition for senior citizens, do a search for your states and “college tuition for senior citizens.” You can also contact your state university system, county or state Department of Aging.
FinAid.org lists these states as offering free college tuition for seniors: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington D.C. Students still have to buy their own books and, in some cases, pay fees. In some states the free tuition may not be available at all institutions.