Table of Contents
- Top Benefits to Taking Classes as a Senior
- Finding Free and Low-Cost Continuing Education Programs
- Free or Inexpensive Continuing Education Options by State
- Bottom Line
Baby boomers are redefining what retirement life looks like and challenging perceived notions of what seniors are capable of. Active aging has become the new goal for many boomers as they seek to live fulfilling and enriching lives during their golden years. Seniors want an engaging experience in retirement where they maintain and improve their physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. This quest has led many to not only pick up healthier exercise habits and seek community events, but also keep their minds active by learning new information and skills.
Baby boomers might be on to something because there are a surprising number of benefits to studying when older. Read below to find out what impact being a lifelong learner has, and how you can get started on a dime.
Top Benefits to Taking Classes as a Senior
The reasons to go back to school are too many to name. Learning new information, being exposed to novel ideas, acquiring useful skills that keep you interesting at dinner parties, and expanding your horizons are just a few. Learning is also intrinsically rewarding and makes you feel younger. If you’re a career-minded senior, hitting the books also helps increase your salary if you choose to work during retirement, keeps you relevant in your industry, and makes you a more compelling candidate.
But did you know it could also make you live a longer, better, and happier life?
According to a 2006 study cited in the Harvard Business Review, one year of formal education may add more than six months on to a senior’s lifespan. That’s not a bad trade, especially considering that many schools offer free classes for seniors. The Harvard Business Review’s article also claims that learning a new skill can offset cognitive decline and improve memory.
Remaining active and busy with meaningful activities is also a cornerstone of active aging. Formal education gives ample opportunities for seniors to get out there and participate in a variety of activities like social events, cultural gatherings, and civic engagements. Seniors who continually challenge their minds are over two and half times less likely to have mental disorders like Alzheimer’s or dementia than those who aren’t as cognitively engaged.
Immersing yourself in learning and continually seeking your self-improvement also gives you a psychological boost by improving depression and your self-image. It also betters your mood by giving your life more meaning and purpose and increasing your qualify of life.
Finding Free and Low-Cost Continuing Education Programs
If you’ve always considered yourself a lifelong learner or want to start reaping the benefits of continuing your education in retirement, here are some places you can get started.
Free Online Programs
Many seniors shy away from considering online or distance learning classes because the technology used seems intimidating. But many libraries and local schools offer free or low-cost computer classes where seniors can get their skills up to speed. If you’re willing to overcome the technology obstacle, you can take a multitude of online courses for free and in the comfort of their own home. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Some leading websites offering free classes in a variety of subject matters include:
In addition, sites like Ted Talks offer a wealth of videos where you can learn about powerful ideas through short talks from experts in various fields. LibriVox also provides free public domain audiobooks seniors can listen and learn from.
Free or Inexpensive Continuing Education Options by State
The list below specifies what each U.S. state offers seniors in the way of higher education. Browse through the list or jump to your place of residence to find out what you may be entitled to.
Public, two-year institutions are free for seniors 60 and older.
Seniors eligible for full social security benefits have all tuition costs waived at all University of Alaska campuses.
Maricopa Community College campuses allow people age 65 and older to take classes at a 50 percent discount on tuition costs.
All citizens 60 and over can go to any state school and take as many classes as needed for free to earn their degree.
California State University waives tuition fees and a multitude of other expenses for students age 60 and over.
Seniors 62 and up are exempt from paying tuition at public colleges. University or activity fees may still apply.
State and community colleges let residents 62 and up go to school for free if space is available.
Delaware’s three public institutions—the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, and Delaware Technical Community College—waive tuition and “related fees” for seniors 60 and older. Be sure to check the program’s limitations.
District of Columbia
Georgetown University offers $50 undergraduate courses for senior citizens 65 and older at its School of Continuing Studies.
All classes are offered free of charge for citizens 60 and over at all state universities. However, non-paying students receive no credit, and students are admitted on a space-available basis. Some schools may also have a maximum number of semester hours allowed.
Georgia’s public colleges and universities offer free classes for students age 62 and older. University fees such as application, campus parking permit fees, and more may still apply.
Free classes are available for seniors 60 and older at the University of Hawaii and at community colleges through the Senior Citizen Visitor Program. Non-paying students receive no credit, and schools do not maintain records of class history.
Discounts vary by college or university, so be sure to check the school you’re interested in. For instance, the College of Southern Idaho’s Office of Aging issues a CSI gold card that allows seniors 60 and over to attend credit-only classes without paying tuition.
Classes at state and community colleges are free for senior citizens age 65 and up whose income also falls at or below twice the federal poverty level. Student fees, lab fees, and more may still apply.
Seniors 60 and older can take up to nine credit hours per semester at any state college or university on a space-available basis for 50 percent off the regular tuition price. Individual schools decide whether other associated fees like application or lab fees are waived.
Simpson College provides one non-credit class per semester free of charge for citizens 65 and older on a space-available basis.
All Regents colleges and universities offer audit classes, or non-credit classes, for free for seniors age 60 and over on a space-available basis.
Residents 65 and older can take classes for free at any state-supported college. Students paying full-price are given priority for class enrollment. The state law doesn’t specify if colleges have to provide non-paying seniors course credit.
Louisiana students age 55 and older receive free tuition and 50 percent off books and classroom materials at official campus bookstores.
Any college that’s a part of the University of Maine System is tuition-free for citizens at least 65 years old who want to take undergraduate classes. Courses may be for credit if space is available.
The University of Maryland System offers free tuition for residents who are at least 60 years old. They must also be retired and receive the bulk of their income through retirement benefits.
The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education gives a discount of 10 percent to 15 percent off the cost of tuition for seniors age 60 and older, veterans, active military personnel, blind and disabled persons, and Native Americans. See the Office of Student Financial Assistance for participating schools and exact discount amounts. Need-based financial aid is also available.
Reduced senior prices vary by institution, so be sure to check schools you’re interested in. Central Michigan University’s Mt. Pleasant campus, for instance, lets seniors 60 and up take free undergraduate audit classes on a space-available basis.
State-supported colleges and universities offer reduced rates for residents at least 62 years old or at least 60 years old if they have a railroad retirement annuity. Exact tuition fees vary by school and type of program.
Several Mississippi schools offer tuition waivers for seniors. Some of these include:
- Delta State University
- Hinds Community College
- Jones County Junior College
- Mississippi State University
- Pearl River Community College
- University of Mississippi
Senior citizens 65 and older get free tuition for audit classes at any one of the state’s colleges or universities on a space-available basis. Registration fees of up to $25 may still apply.
The Montana State University System waives only the cost of tuition at all its campuses for people 65 and over.
Other schools offering tuition waivers include:
These Nebraska schools provide seniors with tuition:
- Chadron State College
- College of St. Mary
- Mid-Plains Community College
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln
- Western Nebraska Community College
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas lets seniors 62 and up take free fall and spring classes and half-off summer classes.
Seniors can find tuition waivers or discounted classes at schools like:
Although state laws don’t mandate free schooling for seniors, many public colleges and universities provide residents 65 and older with free audit or for-credit classes. Check with schools you’re interested in to see what they offer seniors. Many community colleges also provide free or discounted tuition rates for seniors.
The Senior Citizen Reduced Tuition Act of 1984 allows seniors age 65 and older to take credit or non-credit classes for $5 per credit hour—up to six credit hours per semester, at any degree-granting public college or university in the state. Students must still pay course fees.
Seniors aged 60 and over have a few programs to choose from in the state of New York. In general, seniors can go to state-affiliated campuses for free. CUNY and SUNY schools have varying rules, but typically offer reduced fees for non-credit undergraduate classes. Contact the school you’re interested in for specific details.
Free non-credit classes are available for seniors 65 and up at these four state colleges:
- Bismarck State College
- Dickinson State University
- Minot State University
- North Dakota State University
Audit classes are free for residents age 60 and older at state colleges and universities if space is available. University fees still apply.
A few state schools in Oklahoma let seniors age 65 and over take free non-credit classes. These include:
- Carl Albert State College
- Oklahoma City Community College
- Oklahoma Panhandle State University
- Southwestern Oklahoma State University
Numerous community colleges and state schools in Oregon allow seniors at least 62 years of old to take free audit classes on a space-available basis. See individual schools for senior auditing program details. A few of these schools include:
Several Pennsylvania schools offer reduced rates for seniors. Some schools offering tuitions waivers for seniors to take audit classes include:
- Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
- Millersville University (graduate-level courses only)
- Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
Many community colleges also have tuition waivers or reduced rates for seniors.
Public colleges and universities waive tuition fees for lower-income seniors age 60 and over, disabled veterans, and national guard members.
Both credit and non-credit classes are free for seniors age 60 and older at state-supported colleges and universities if space is available. Non-paying students are responsible for other educational fees.
Seniors age 65 and up receive a 35 percent discount on tuition-only fees for in-person classes at state university campuses.
All tuition, maintenance, student activity, and registration fees are waived for people 65 and up looking to take for-credit courses at state-supported colleges or universities. The only fees charged may be record-keeping fees of $45 per quarter or $70 per semester. Students turning 65 during the quarter or semester are still eligible for free classes.
New Texas Legislature passed in 2014 limits the number of classes seniors can receive discounted rates for and obligates schools to define a minimum grade point average (GPA) seniors must obtain to keep receiving discounts. Be sure to check with individual schools what those limits and minimums are.
A few Texas colleges offering seniors discounted tuition rates for-credit courses are:
Residents 62 and up can pay no fees, excluding a quarterly registration fee, at all state colleges and universities if space is available.
The Vermont State College System allows seniors age 65 and over to take one audit class tuition-free per enrollment period. Additional undergraduate classes are half off the regular tuition rates if space is available. University fees and educational costs still apply.
Seniors who are at least 60 years old and have lived in Virginia for at least one year can take as many as six classes per semester for free. This includes up to three for-credit classes and three audit classes. Low-income seniors earning less than $23,850 can enroll as full-time or part-time students without paying tuition or fees, excluding the costs of lab fees and required materials.
Washington State allows seniors 60 and older can take two classes at a time for free at any state school. However, not every school participates in the program. Some of the ones that do include:
All public colleges offer all types of classes at a reduced rate for residents at least 65 years old on a space-available basis. Non-credit courses can’t cost more than $50 for tuition, and for-credit courses can’t be more than 50 percent of the standard tuition rate.
Schools part of the University of Wisconsin System offer residents age 60 and older the opportunity to take free audit classes.
Free classes are available for seniors 65 and up on a space-available basis at the University of Wyoming. Other colleges like Laramie County Community College and Northwest College Wyoming also have reduced senior rates.
Going back to school is one of the best things boomers can do to keep their minds healthy and sharp. Since many state schools and community colleges offer free or reduced classes for seniors, continuing your education isn’t something that has to strain your retirement budget. If you do spend money on higher education, be sure to take advantage of tax breaks like the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.