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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| February 5, 2020
Retirees, you’re already a bona-fide graduate of the school of hard knocks – your decades of full-time employment. There’s still plenty to learn, however, whether your goal is pursuing a second act in your career or lifelong learning to
keep your brain sharp.
Across the country, retirees can take advantage of free (or close to it) college courses for older residents at various public and private institutions. Some programs allow folks as young as 55 to participate.
Most free-tuition programs make older students wait until registration for classes has closed and the add-drop period has ended. In other words, paying students generally get first priority, and you’ll only be able to enroll “on a space-available basis.” In most cases, you have to go through the normal admissions process and be accepted at the college or university before you can enroll in individual classes. And while tuition may be waived, you may encounter fees to apply or register or to use labs or other resources tied to a particular class. You’ll also have to pay for books and other course materials.
Many free-for-retirees programs only allow you to audit classes, meaning you won’t get college credit.
Take a look.
All Alabama residents age 60 and older can take advantage of free tuition at two-year post-secondary institutions in the state, according to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.
Senior students first must meet the school’s admission requirements. Contact the financial aid office of any of the 24 community and technical colleges in the Alabama Community College System, including Calhoun Community College in Decatur (the largest school in the system), Alabama Technical Institute and Marion Military Institute.
If you’re an Alaska resident and eligible for full Social Security benefits, tuition is waived at University of Alaska campuses. (Use our tool to determine when you qualify for full Social Security benefits.)
Enrollment is offered on a space-available basis.
Arizona’s tuition deal for older residents isn’t a freebie. The 10 campuses of Maricopa (County) Community Colleges offer a 50% discount on resident tuition rates (right now, $85 per credit hour) to residents 65 and older. You must also pay registration and course-specific fees.
All for-credit classes in the college system with open seats are eligible for the senior discount. There’s no discount for non-credit courses.
For Arkansas residents 60 and older, tuition and student fees are waived at all state-supported colleges, including community colleges.
This freebie applies only to for-credit courses and is offered on a space-available basis.
The California State University system knows how to take care of state residents age 60 and over. Tuition is waived for all state-supported colleges.
But wait, there’s more: California state colleges also waive application fees, as well as any activity fees associated with your classes, for older students. You’ll pay just $1 for student fees covering the student body association and health facilities, among other campus benefits.
At Colorado State University, “lifelong learners” age 55 and older can attend classes for free on a space-available basis -- but you won’t get college credits for those classes.
At the University of Colorado Denver, folks 60 and older can audit classes for free. You cannot take classes that require a lab or special equipment, computer classes, courses with the university’s Division of Extended Studies, and any courses requiring additional fees. There are other restrictions, including a limit of two courses per semester.
Connecticut waives tuition at state colleges for residents 62 and older. This applies to the University of Connecticut, Connecticut State University and the state’s 12 regional community-technical colleges.
Credits from the courses can be applied to a degree. Unless you are enrolled in a degree program, free enrollment is offered on a space-available basis. Course fees are on you.
Delaware’s three public higher-education institutions – the University of Delaware, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical and Community College – waive tuition and other fees for Delaware residents 60 and over.
Classes are made available to older residents after tuition-paying students have signed up. Older applicants must be pursuing a formal degree and meet all the requirements for that class (for example, if it’s open only to students who are majoring in that subject).
Free tuition doesn't mean everything is free: 60-and-over students must pay for lab fees, books and other supplies related to the course.
D.C. residents age 65 and older can take as many as two courses per semester for free at the University of the District of Columbia.
At private Georgetown University, D.C. residents age 65 and older may audit (not take for college credit) undergraduate-level courses, as space is available. The classes are $50 each, pending approval of your application by individual professors.
All of Florida’s state universities by law waive tuition and fees for any Florida resident older than 60 taking for-credit classes. (You won’t actually earn credits toward a degree.) Paying students, as well as state employees, get first dibs on classes. If there’s room, you’re in.
There are 31 public colleges and universities in Georgia’s state university system, and all offer free courses for resident-students age 62 and older.
“People do hear about it and send us e-mails saying, ‘What do I have to do? What’s it about?’” Mark Daddona, associate vice president for enrollment management and academic services at Clayton State University, told news outlet AJC.com. “What people do need to know first is that they must follow the usual application process to apply.”
Retirees taking advantage of Georgia’s free college courses may have to pay nominal fees, such as application fees, books and parking permits. Paying students are first in line, and you’ll be admitted on a space-available basis.
All residents of Hawaii age 60 and older can attend courses for free at the University of Hawaii and state community colleges. No college credit is given, and no permanent records are kept.
The University of Idaho permits Idaho residents age 60 and older to enroll in UoI courses on a space-available basis. The cost: $20, plus $5 per credit hour.
You must wait to register until after regular registration ends (the university would rather fill the class with those paying). Participants must pay other fees, including lab fees and special course fees.
Under this program, participants only get class instruction and library privileges. You won’t get the perks associated with being a paying student, including free admission to athletic events or access to the recreation center.
Other Idaho institutions offering free or low-cost tuition to seniors include Boise State University, the College of Southern Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College.
When you turn 65 in Illinois, tuition is waived for regularly scheduled for-credit courses at the University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and Western Illinois University, as well as all public community colleges.
Anyone taking advantage of this must first be accepted at the university or college. You’re on the hook for other fees, including student fees and lab fees. Tuition-paying students get first dibs at the classes; you’ll be able to join if there’s space.
Indiana isn’t as generous as other states. Its residents age 65 and older can enroll in for-credit courses in degree programs at the state’s public universities at 50% of the normal in-state tuition cost -- on up to nine credits per semester. Lab fees, as well as application and registration fees, are the responsibility of the student.
Participating schools include those under the Indiana State University and Indiana University flags.
We found one private college, Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, that allows folks 65 and older to take non-credit classes tuition-free. Looking at for-credit courses? You can take those for the discounted rate of $375 per credit hour. Lab courses aren’t free or discounted. The caveats: All the classes are on a space-available basis, and you can only take one class per semester.
A variety of Kansas colleges and universities allow state residents age 60 and older to audit certain classes (meaning no college credit or grade) for free.
Participating schools include the University of Kansas, Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, Pittsburg State University, Washburn University and Wichita State University.
Residents of Kentucky age 65 and older can take classes for free on a space-available basis at the state’s public colleges and universities. Fees are the responsibility of the student.
Louisiana’s public colleges and universities waive tuition and registration fees for residents 55 and older. You’ll also pay half-price for “reference books, manuals, and other aids to instruction which are required by any course in which such student is enrolled when purchased from a public college or university-operated bookstore.”
The University of Maine college system offers free college tuition for senior citizens (age 65 and older). That includes those pesky mandatory fees colleges and universities so famously tack on to bills.
This freebie includes undergraduate courses for credit or audit at any University of Maine outpost. Acceptance is on a space-available basis.
Folks 60 and older get their tuition waived at state schools for as many as three courses per semester on a space-available basis.
Depending on the college you are applying to within the system, you may have to pay application, registration or other fees. (Some schools waive those fees.)
Bonus: The system’s Golden Identification Card for older students will enable access to campus libraries and student events. (Unless you’re enrolled as a full-time student, retirees cannot use the health facilities except in emergency.)
Public colleges within Massachusetts’ higher education system waive tuition for state residents 60 and older.
Other fees may also be waived, depending on the school. To apply for the tuition waiver, applicants are urged to contact the school’s financial aid office.
You’ll have to do some legwork to see if the public college or university you want to attend as a Michigan state resident offers free or reduced tuition for retirees. It’s all over the place in Michigan, the state where I proudly got my undergraduate degree.
Northern Michigan University , for example, offers “full tuition scholarships” to residents 62 and older. (Off-campus and online courses are excluded.) You must follow the application process (fee is waived), and you’ll have to pay for books and course fees.
Another example: Michigan Tech, under its senior citizen enrollment, waives tuition and fees for folks 60 and older for as many as two courses per semester.
Residents 62 and older can attend courses for credit (or audit them) tuition-free at the University of Minnesota and throughout the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Activity fees are also waived, but, under the program, these students must pay for administrative fees (unless auditing the course), any materials or service charges tacked onto the courses.
For example, the University of Minnesota allows senior citizens to audit courses for free, but charges $10 per credit if you’re taking the program for college credit (that’s a bargain; costs per credit are $502.25 for other, younger tuition-paying students who are state residents). You’re also responsible for paying for required lab, course and material fees.
Through the University of Mississippi Lifelong Learners Program, Ole Miss seniors age 65 and older can enroll tuition-free in one academic course (up to four credits) per semester at any University of Mississippi campus.
Mississippi State University also caters to true seniors at its Starkville and Meridian campuses. State residents age 60 or older can take up to two on-campus classes per semester tuition-free, a combination of no more than 18 credit hours per academic year. Space is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. And as the university points out, “senior citizen students are responsible for paying any course or laboratory fees; distance fees; cost of course materials or textbooks. Credit hours taken in excess of the specified limits of this policy shall be paid by the senior citizen as the actual tuition for those hours.”
Missouri residents age 65 and older are guaranteed under state law a scholarship that includes a tuition waiver to any state college or university. Scholarship awardees do not get college credit for courses taken, and acceptance into a course is on a space-available basis. The school can impose a registration fee of no more than $25 per semester. You must go through the application process.
The Montana State University System – including the University of Montana and Montana State University campuses, as well as community colleges – is most welcoming to later-in-life learners. Schools within the system grant tuition waivers (or acceptance to the Golden College Program, as the University of Montana calls it) to residents age 65 and older. Only tuition is covered; all other fees are the responsibility of the senior student.
Applications are accepted the third week of the semester after yielding to tuition-paying students; you may have three weeks or more worth of catching up to do once accepted into a course.
There’s no statewide program in Nebraska to waive tuition for older students, but you may find free or discounted tuition at individual colleges. For example, Chadron State College offers a tuition waiver program to residents age 65 and older. You’re allowed to audit one course per semester on a space-available basis.
The University of Nevada Las Vegas allows Nevada residents age 62 or older to take courses tuition-free as space is available in the fall and spring semesters. You’ll be responsible for paying for books and course fees.
Looking at summer classes at UNLV? Older learners can attend summer-term classes at 50% off normal tuition rates.
Residents age 65 and older can take as many as two for-credit courses per academic year tuition-free at the University of New Hampshire. The student is responsible for all other costs for the class, including fees and mandatory class materials. Enrollment is offered on a space-available basis.
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, has a Senior Citizen Audit Program whereby state residents 62 and older can attend classes tuition-free on a space-available, non-credit basis. These must be classroom-based courses; online courses don’t fall under the program.
Each of the state’s public, post-secondary, degree-granting institutions “must grant a reduction in tuition to senior citizens [age 65 or older] upon request by the student.” The fee: $5 per credit hour.
Some caveats: You must meet course requirements; you can take no more than six credit hours per semester; you must pay any additional mandatory course fees; and enrollment is available on a space-available basis.
Tuition is waived for Empire State residents 60 and older who audit for-credit classes
at any of the state’s public colleges and universities. The SUNY (State University of New York) campuses are located throughout the state.
There are restrictions and fees, of course. You’ll have to contact the instructor or the college to see if space is available, and you may have to wait until the add/drop period ends, meaning you’ll miss a handful of classes if you eventually get in.
You are responsible for any fees beyond tuition, such as registration and other fees (they can vary widely between each school) and mandatory class materials. There may also be small audit fees, depending on the school.
Good news for retirees eyeing North Carolina as a landing pad for their golden years: State residents 65 and older can, on a space-available basis, audit classes tuition-free at the campuses of the University of North Carolina, as well as the state’s community colleges. Registration fees are waived, too, but there may be an application fee, depending on the college.
Want to earn college credit? Residents 65 and older can take as many as six hours of for-credit courses at the state’s community colleges each semester.