September is a time of new beginnings for the one million university students across Canada who have headed back to school. With new changes to Ontario Student Assistant Plan (OSAP) rules, there will be more mature students among them.
The new changes to OSAP, which were announced last year, took effect for students starting in September 2017, which means that now mature students and adult learners can go to college or university essentially for free.
According to Maclean’s, “the new OSAP rules will make average tuition free for students, including mature students and adult learners who do not have a college or university degree and whose family income, in general, is less than $50,000 per year.”
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Adult students who meet these conditions “can go to college or university as mature students with enough OSAP grant funds to possibly cover their entire year’s tuition.”
The Ontario government’s hope is that mature students can improve their skills and re-enter the workforce, perhaps with a new career and skills that are in greater demand. Although a mature student is considered a person who has been out of high school more than four years who is independent (does not live with a parent), mature students can be single, married/common-law, or a sole support parent.
“Eligibility for the new OSAP grant will not depend on the number of years out of high school or program level,” Sean Greson, issues manager for the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development told Maclean’s. This new funding opens the door for boomers and older adults who are interested in going back to school to supplement their retirement income with a new new career, to get the skills needed to start their own business, or to take advantage of the many benefits of lifelong learning.
Ontario is not the only province that offers support for seniors who want to go back to school. Some universities and colleges offer courses to seniors for free, others allow seniors to audit courses, and most provinces have financial assistance available to seniors who meet the requirements. Don’t forget to check out scholarship and bursary options – there could be untapped funding out there that you can take advantage of.
Whether you wanted to go college and never had the chance, loved your school days and wish you could go back, or are looking for new skills to help supplement your retirement income, there are many benefits for seniors who decide to go back to school.
Learning builds new neural connections that can improve:
Education is also good for the soul. Learning in the classroom, or online, is a social endeavor that can help seniors ward off isolation and build new social connections. In fact, according to the American Council on Education, the social connections seniors make with teachers and peers are one of the reasons mature students over 50 attend community college classes. Other reasons include learning skills for a new career, and having fun.
Virtually all types of programs and educational opportunities are open to mature students in Canada, but depending on the program there may be some prerequisites that you’ll need to meet, so check with the college or university to see if you need to be a permanent citizen or have a high school diploma.
Common courses of interest for seniors include astronomy, business, computer languages, history, IT, technology and writing. However, courses geared for seniors, like Simon Fraser University’s Liberal Arts and 55+ program are particularly popular, and seniors who want to register in person instead of online may need to be prepared to wait in line to get a spot.
Older adults who don’t live close to a college or university need not worry about missing out. Most offer online courses that can be taken from the comfort of your home. In fact, there are online courses available from a number of cultural centers, educational institutions, libraries, museums and even retirement communities.
Yes, that’s right! Some retirement communities partner with colleges and universities to offer residents post-secondary courses.
Feeling intimidated at the thought of taking a college or university course? There are plenty of other options that will provide you with the same lifelong learning benefits. Your local library is a good place to start if you’re looking for a free course of interest. Many libraries offer art, computer and photography classes that are either free, or very reasonably priced.
So, as youth across Canada head back to school this month, remember that learning doesn’t come with age restrictions. There are plenty of options for older adults to take advantage of learning opportunities and reap the benefits of education.
Would you consider taking advantage of OSAP’s new rules for mature students so you could go to college or university? What course(s) interest you most? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.