When my mom retired in February 2020, she had to quickly shift from managing a pressure-filled, 70-hour workweek to enduring a terrifying, yearlong pandemic lockdown. Now, thanks to the heroic efforts of scientists and health care workers, my mom is beginning to peek out from her bubble and contemplate what a fulfilling retirement might look like. Thankfully, she—and anyone else over 60—has a unique opportunity to consider: a free college education.
AARP has sourced colleges in every state that are offering free (or highly reduced) tuition for students over 60. Yes, free tuition. In some states, that means credit toward getting the college degree that’s always been just out of reach, maybe auditing that Western Civ class you wish you could take over (but actually pay attention this time) or even scooping up a Penn State “Cow to Cone” class on ice cream making, once taken by the famous Ben and Jerry. Note: If you’re worried about the 18-year-olds who want and need these classes, too, paying students will get first dibs on class space, so it’s all good.
Over 60 or getting close? Here are the CliffsNotes on what your next semester could look like.
Californians who are at least 60 years old can attend classes at any of the California State University’s 23 campuses for free or reduced tuition. Through Sacramento State’s Open University program, students over 60 can audit regular university classes for just $65 per unit, a significant break from the $253 per unit other students pay. Also at Sac State, The Renaissance Society, housed on campus and online, offers dozens of classes and learning opportunities for just a $100 annual membership. This fall, take a songwriting seminar, join a writers’ workshop or attend a presentation on how implicit bias contributes to systemic racism. Work on your Spanish speaking skills or beef up your understanding of jazz—The Renaissance Society has something for any returning scholar.
Through UC Davis, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute delivers a host of options for the over-50 set for just $60 annually. Groove in a class on the history of blues; chew through an edible flowers seminar; dive into a course on how to read The New Yorker.
Know some out-of-state senior citizens interested in heading back to school? New York State residents 60 and up may audit classes, tuition-free, at all State University of New York and City University of New York schools. At Michigan Tech, tuition and related fees are waived for up to two on-campus courses each semester for state residents 60 and older. In Massachusetts, state residents 60+ can use a tuition waiver at any public colleges when they enroll in undergraduate classes. At the University of Delaware, the 60+ crowd can pursue a graduate degree, tuition-free. The same is true at Georgia Tech and University of Maryland.
There’s evidence that just the act of learning can promote brain health and limit the effects of aging. And—since the number of Americans age 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million in 2060—there’s no better time for seniors to take advantage of these opportunities.
Personally, I can’t wait to take my mom back-to-school shopping.