There are plenty of reasons to go back to school, even if it's been years or even decades since you last set foot in a classroom. You can pick up new job skills, learn a new language or simply dive into a subject — art, music, psychology, basket weaving — that has always fascinated you. Perhaps the best reason of all? It's free (or less costly) for older residents of every state and Washington, D.C., to take college courses.
A few common caveats: Older would-be students, in some states starting as young as 50, can typically join a college class only when space permits. That means you have to wait until at least the first day to know if you secured a spot. Whether you can get credit for the course or only audit the class varies by state and school. Also, in many states just tuition is covered. So older students might still need to pony up for books and fees. But even that's a relatively small price to pay to keep your mind sharp and your skill set current.
Check out the free or low-cost opportunities for lifelong learners in your state.
The University of Alaska system — including the University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Alaska Southeast — offers a tuition waiver to state residents who are eligible for full Social Security benefits. Full retirement age ranges between 65 and 67, depending on your year of birth.
Sorry, older Arizona residents; no free classes for you. But some colleges offer reduced tuition. For example, Maricopa County residents ages 65 and up pay just half the in-county tuition at all 10 Maricopa Community Colleges campuses. And Cochise or Santa Cruz county residents 60 or older get 50 percent off at Cochise College. Also, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona host Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, which offer no-credit classes and a variety of other academic-type opportunities to locals 50 and older for a fee ranging from $10 to $140 per semester or $350 for the year, depending on the program.
Californians who are at least 60 years old can attend classes tuition-free at any of the California State University's 23 campuses. (Note that Fullerton's program is currently full.) Bonus: The waiver also covers application, health services and related activities fees, and reduces the student body center, student body service and health facilities fees to just $1.
A few Colorado schools offer programs for older adults to audit classes for free. At Colorado State University, you have to be age 55 or older to qualify. At the University of Colorado Denver and the Metropolitan State University of Denver, you have to be at least 60 years old. And at the University of Northern Colorado, the minimum age is 65. At Colorado State University Pueblo, you either have to be 62 to 64 and retired or 65 or older. The University of Denver offers a senior audit program for adults 60-plus for $100 per course.
Connecticut residents who are at least 62 years old can attend any state college for free, whether you want to pursue a degree or audit a class. For more information on a particular school, contact its registration office.
State residents 60 and up can take classes, for credit or audit, at the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, and Delaware Technical and Community College. On top of tuition, the law waives application, course registration and related fees (not including lab and shop fees). But you must be an official degree candidate to be eligible. At the University of Delaware, you can even pursue a graduate degree, tuition-free, once you hit 60.
The University of the District of Columbia's Institute of Gerontology waives tuition and fees for courses at both UDC's Community College and Van Ness Campus for D.C. residents who are 65 or older and admitted to the school. To obtain a degree, you have to pay half the tuition and fees required. George Washington University allows locals (from the 20037 and 20006 ZIP codes) ages 60 and up to audit classes for $65 a pop. Georgetown University lets Washington, D.C.-area residents 65 and older audit for $50 a course (plus fees, if applicable).
The University System of Georgia sponsors a program for residents 62 and older to audit or take classes for credit at any of the state's public colleges without having to pay tuition or related fees (except for supplies, labs, shop and such). While you can use the waiver for graduate-level courses at certain schools, including Georgia Tech, it does not apply for dental, medical, veterinary or law schools.
Several University of Hawaii schools, including UH Manoa, Kauai Community College and Leeward Community College, participate in a Na Kupuna program (kupuna means grandparent, ancestor or honored elder). It allows Hawaii residents 60 and older to audit a variety of classes without tuition or fees. Check with individual schools for details.
A number of schools in Idaho, including Boise State University and the College of Southern Idaho, allow older residents (starting at 65 for the former and over 60 for the latter) to audit classes for free. If you want to get credit for classes, you have to pay discounted rates. Through its adult learner program, Idaho residents 65 and up pay a $20 registration fee per semester and just $5 per credit hour, plus any special fees. Same rates apply at Lewis-Clark State College and the University of Idaho for residents 60 and up.
Indiana requires public colleges to offer retired residents 60 and up a discount of at least 50 percent off in-state tuition on a maximum nine credit hours a semester. Some schools offer an even better deal: For example, Ivy Tech Community College and Vincennes University waive 100 percent of tuition for a credit course. And at Purdue University's Fort Wayne campus, you can audit classes for free. The University of Indianapolis also allows tuition-free enrollment to retired state residents, but you have to be at least 65 years old to be eligible and pay a $20 application fee for the Lifelong Learning College.
Slim pickings for older education-seeking residents of Iowa. The Des Moines Area Community College lets locals 62 and up take one free for-credit course each semester. Simpson College (with campuses in Indianola and West Des Moines) lets those 65 and older take one course per semester; non-credit courses are free; for-credit courses are available at the discounted rate of $375 per credit hour.
The University of Maine System provides a tuition waiver for state residents who will turn at least 65 during the semester in which they register for undergraduate courses, whether for credit or not, at any of its member schools. That includes the University of Maine, the University of Maine at Augusta, the University of Southern Maine and others.
Maryland residents who are retired and at least 60 years old can waive tuition for a maximum of three undergraduate or graduate courses per semester, even if they're seeking a degree, at any of the University of Maryland System schools. Retired is defined as getting most of your income from retirement benefits and not working full-time. With the system's Golden ID Card program, you can also access all campus libraries, special cultural and social events, peer advising opportunities and discounts on fees. Exact benefits are determined by each school.
Several Michigan schools allow older adults to take classes for free. At Central Michigan University and Lake Superior State University, state residents 60 and older can audit classes for free. At Michigan Tech tuition and related fees are waived for up to two on-campus courses each semester. CMU also waives the application fee, special course fees and even parking fees. Both Northern Michigan University and Western Michigan University offer free tuition to locals 62 and up. Western Michigan limits this opportunity to one class per semester.
Minnesota lets residents who turn at least 62 before the start of a semester audit classes for free at any public college or university in the state. (If you have a railroad annuity, you qualify for free tuition at age 60.) If you prefer to take a class for credit, you may have to pay an administrative fee set by the school: At the University of Minnesota, it's $10 per credit hour; at Minnesota State University Mankato, $20 per credit hour. Other fees may also be charged, depending on the course.
There's no statewide rule about free tuition for older adults in Mississippi, but several schools in the state offer the benefit. For example, Mississippi State University invites residents 60 and up to take tuition-free classes on its Starkville and Meridian campuses or even online, with a maximum of six credit hours per semester. And at the University of Mississippi, students 65 or older can take one class (up to four credit hours) per semester tuition-free.
A number of Nebraska schools allow residents 65 and up to take classes, tuition-free. At the College of Saint Mary and Chadron State College, they can audit one class per semester. At the Omaha and Lincoln campuses of the University of Nebraska, they can audit up to two classes a semester for an annual $25 fee.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, offers tuition-free courses for locals 62 or older, but only during the fall and spring semesters. During the summer, they have to pay 50 percent of the regular cost. The University also hosts an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers a variety of classes, events and other opportunities for semiretired and retired adults of all ages. Membership costs $175 a year or $90 per fall or spring semester and $40 each summer.
Many New Jersey colleges and universities offer older state residents the opportunity to audit classes for free. At all Rutgers University schools, the minimum age is 62; at New Jersey City University and Montclair State University, you have to be at least 65 to take advantage of the offer. Montclair State even lets you use the tuition waiver if you're seeking an undergraduate or graduate degree.
It's not exactly free, but public colleges in New Mexico are required to offer tuition of just $5 per credit hour for up to 10 hours a semester to residents of the state who turn at least 65 by the third Friday of classes. Schools may limit their allowance to fewer hours: New Mexico State University lets residents take up to six credit hours at the reduced rate. Check with individual schools’ admissions offices for details about their policies.
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. How many credit hours and other details vary; contact individual schools for more on their policies. (The state may soon amend current law to allow residents over 65 to enroll tuition-free in a limited number of credit classes, too.)
A handful of North Dakota colleges allow state residents 65 and up to audit classes and waive tuition costs. That includes Bismarck State College, Dickinson State University, Minot State University and North Dakota State University. NDSU also waives related fees, but it does require payment of a $35 application fee.
Many Pennsylvania colleges and universities offer tuition-free classes for older state residents. All 24 locations of the Pennsylvania State University offer its Go-60 program, which allows state residents 60 and up who are retired or working no more than 20 hours a week to take up to six credits each semester, for credit or audit, tuition-free. East Stroudsburg University and West Chester University have similar programs. Clarion University allows students 62 and older to audit classes for no tuition or fees.
State residents 60 or older may qualify for a tuition waiver to attend classes at Rhode Island's public colleges and universities, including the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. But they are subject to a “means test” to show they are within set income limits. And degree-seeking students must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Sorry, South Dakota residents; there's no rule allowing for free classes for older locals in state. But there is a requirement for a rate reduction, at least. State schools must offer a 45 percent tuition discount to residents 65 and older for either undergraduate- or graduate-level courses.
Tennessee offers two tiers of opportunity for academically inclined older residents. First, when you turn 60, you become eligible to audit classes at any state college or university without having to pay tuition, maintenance fees, student activity fees or registration fees. Second, when you turn 65, you can skip the same costs and take classes for credit, but the school may then charge you a service fee of up to $45 a quarter or $70 a semester.
Texas public colleges and universities may offer tuition-free classes to state residents 65 and up. If you prefer to take classes for credit, you can take up to six credit hours without having to pay tuition. Some schools offering this break include: Lone Star College, Midland College, University of Houston, University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at Dallas. (Students as young as 55 may take advantage of a tuition reduction program at participating schools.)
Residents 62 and up may take classes at any public college or university in Utah for next to nothing. While you won't have to pay tuition or other related costs, you do have to pay a quarterly registration fee, which varies by institution. The University of Utah charges $25 a semester (for audited classes); Salt Lake Community College costs just $10 a semester.
The Vermont State Colleges System allows students 65 and older to audit one undergraduate course each semester, tuition-free, at any of its member schools, including Castleton University, the Community College of Vermont, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College. If you want to go for more — either auditing additional classes or opting for credit toward a certificate or undergraduate degree — you pay just half of the regular rate.
In Virginia, residents as young as 60 can audit up to three classes each term at any state college or university for zero tuition. And if your taxable individual income is $23,850 or less, you can register as a full-time or part-time student and take classes for credit, tuition-free. Other fees may be charged.
In Washington state, residents 60 and up may be able to waive tuition and pay only a small registration fee for up to two classes a semester or quarter, depending on each school's particular policies. At South Seattle College and to audit classes at Bellevue College, eligible students pay $5 per course; at Community Colleges of Spokane, the fee is $2.50 per class.
West Virginia requires that public colleges and universities offer programs that allow residents 65 and older to take classes for drastically reduced costs. If auditing a class, you only pay a total of $50 in tuition and fees. If getting credit, you pay no more than half the standard in-state rate.
Wyoming has free options for older people wanting to go back to school. The University of Wyoming, for example, allows admitted students who are at least 65 to enroll in classes at no charge. And Northwest College offers a Golden Age program that gives Park County residents 60 or older a tuition waiver for up to six credit hours a semester, along with free admission to most social, cultural and athletic events on campus.