“Once you stop learning, you start dying.” — Albert Einstein
Whether you loved attending college or university, or wanted to attend but never had the opportunity, seniors should consider the benefits of going back to school. Learning at any age is extremely beneficial for the brain. When you learn something new, your brain grows new cells and builds new connections which has proven benefits for problem-solving and memory skills. Learning can help improve cognitive ability and memory function and can help ward off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Learn more about how we can accomplish this by making education accessible to seniors.
Learning is a social endeavor and taking a college or university course, even if it is online, can help build social connections and ward off isolation — an important factor in keeping seniors healthy and happy.
Half of college students who are 50 years of age or older attend community colleges to connect with other people, have fun and retool for a new career, suggests the American Council on Education.
Colleges, universities, community centers and libraries across the country recognize the value of offering seniors educational opportunities and as such offer reduced fees, tax credits, scholarships and in some cases even free classes for seniors. Here are some ways you can return to school for less:
You need to apply and then enroll for post-secondary classes, but as a senior you won’t need to worry about SAT scores or entrance essays. The requirements for seniors will vary depending on the school, but usually include:
Take advantage of one or more of the following programs to go back to school for less (or nothing at all):
A number of universities across the country will waive or significantly reduce tuition for seniors for credit and non-credit courses. According to the American Council on Education, 60% of accredited degree-granting educational institutions in the U.S. offer tuition waivers for older adults. Surprisingly, however, these programs are often underutilized. This may be because:
This website lists schools by state that offer tuition waivers.
Many people are surprised to learn that a number of states offer scholarships to seniors. There are also organizations like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which is a non-profit that meets the needs of individuals 50 years of age and older who want to pursue their love of learning.
This website has a great list educational opportunities like scholarships and OLLI programs for seniors by state.
The government offers tax deductions up to $10,000 in a lifetime for higher education purposes. Talk to your tax advisor about this and other tax benefits for going back to school.
If you don’t qualify for a tuition waiver program or the school you are interested in doesn’t offer it then consider auditing a course instead. Many colleges and universities will let seniors audit a course which means that you can attend lectures but probably won’t need to do homework or take exams.
Auditing a course allows you to take advantage of the social and learning benefits without the stress associated with exams, essays and homework. The downside is that you usually don’t receive a college credit for auditing a course, so if you’re looking to earn a degree then this option won’t be of much use.
In order to audit a course you usually have to contact the school directly and also receive permission from the professor. Schools don’t usually advertise that they do this, but it’s worth it to give them a call and ask about a course that interests you.
The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) reports that 84% of community colleges offer courses specifically for students age 50 and older. However, these courses are usually not free, although some colleges do offer seniors a discount.
Online courses are sometimes free to audit and some states will waive online fees if you are over a certain age (usually 60). Online learning offers the same benefits for seniors as going into a classroom and is a great option for seniors who have mobility issues, lack transportation or live in a rural setting.
Some retirement communities have partnered with online or local colleges and universities to offer residents access to post-secondary education courses. Check with your retirement community to see if they offer a similar opportunity. If your senior living community doesn’t offer educational courses consider talking to them about setting a program up for you. Most retirement communities are more than happy to cater to senior interests, especially those that support the mental and emotional health and well-being of their community members.
Your local library is a good place to look for free courses of interest. Many offer computer, photography, art and genealogy classes for free: you just need a library card to sign up. Community centers also offer general interest courses at reasonable prices. If your community has a senior center they may offer classes as part of the membership fee.
Learning is not restricted to the young and the benefits of learning for seniors can make a huge difference in mental and cognitive health, social connections and overall happiness. Consider adding education to your to-do list this year.
What types of educational opportunities have you or a senior loved one taken advantage of? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.