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It’s never too late: Free tuition for seniors

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 a calculator. 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 may audit undergraduate courses on a tuition-free, space-available basis. The Senior Citizen Auditor Program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., charges $30 per credit 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 $23,850 to take college courses for credit without paying 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 for serious courses in neuroscience, foreign affairs and poetry, as well as some not-so-serious classes on jazz and movie appreciation. You can find a list of participating colleges and universities here.

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Tuition waivers by state

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 state and “college tuition for senior citizens.” You can also contact your state university system, county or state Department of Aging.

There is no state-mandated waiver of tuition in Arizona. However, Maricopa County Community Colleges encourage seniors to continue their education by offering a 50% reduction in current county resident tuition, with credit hour classes on a space-available basis.

San Francisco State University offers an ElderCollege program for students 55 and older that lets students sit in on regular university classes for $55 per semester. Follow the link for a course registration code. And thrifty California residents should check out this deal: California State University campuses  offer state residents 60 and older enrollment in any course for $2.

If you are a Connecticut resident who is 62 years of age or older, your tuition is waived at UConn or CSU. That includes degree programs as well as audited classes.

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. The site states that people 55 and older who volunteer might be eligible to receive education awards honors of volunteer service through the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The awards could be applied to the volunteer’s own education or transferred to a child, foster child, or grandchild.

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Learning online

Many online courses are free. A quick search of the educational website edX  turned up self-paced free courses in architecture, design, contract law, and music. Some course offerings on Coursera allow you to audit some content and videos for free. The Online Course Report gives you a jaw-dropping list of 5,400 free online courses.

It is never too late to learn. Challenge yourself to find a class or program this year. 

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