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How Senior Citizens Are Returning to College for “Encore” Educations

For some older adults, retirement is a well-deserved time of rest, spending afternoons on the golf course and summers at the beach. For other seniors, however, retirement means something entirely different: going back to college.

senior woman graduating from college, to illustrate article on senior citizens returning to college

Some seniors go back to college for degrees, others just to keep learning.

Many universities offer programs for senior citizens returning to college. They are designed to help seniors gain skills or knowledge for a new career, or to earn credits for a degree. These initiatives are commonly called encore programs. The classes are held on campus, online, or through a mix of the two. 

For instance, the University of Minnesota in fall 2017 is launching the University of Minnesota Advanced Careers program. Accepted fellows, generally baby boomers near retirement or recently retired, will study on campus and do an internship for a year to prepare for “encore” careers in the social sector.

Many encore programs aim to help seniors make a social impact in their “second acts.” But learning is good for seniors, too. Aging adults who engage in difficult tasks and learn new skills show more memory improvements than those who take part in less demanding mental activities. That’s according to findings by the Association for Psychological Science.

Senior Citizens Go to College Free in Many States

senior man in college class, to illustrate article on senior citizens returning to college

Many colleges let seniors attend classes free on a space-available basis.

Each university typically has its own enrollment process for senior citizens returning to college. Check with your local university. Also, different states offer different benefits. Below, however, are examples of free or reduced-tuition benefits for seniors in a few states popular with retirees.


In Texas, adults 55 and older can get reduced tuition and fees at universities. They just can’t displace younger students seeking a degree or certificate. Adults 65 and older can, free of charge, audit a class or enroll for up to six credit hours per semester as long as space is available. These students must maintain a 2.0 grade point average for undergraduate work and a 3.0 for a graduate degree.


Florida, which has the highest percentage of senior citizens, has a program similar to the one in Texas. At public colleges and universities, such as the University of West Florida, state residents age 60 and older are eligible for a tuition fee waiver. Policies vary from college to college on whether the classes can be for credit or are audited. Check with your local campus. And, again, non-waiver students get priority for space.


If you are a California resident age 60 or older, you can save a bundle at any California State University campus by applying for a discretionary fee waiver. If approved, your tuition and application fees are waived. Other fees may be reduced to $1. Campuses may set a quota on the total number of 60+ waiver students, and class space must be available, so apply early.


In Georgia, residents age 62 and older can skip paying tuition and fees, except for supplies or laboratory/class fees. Again, the program runs on a space-available basis. Also, you can’t enroll in dental, medical, veterinary, or law schools.


In Minnesota, residents age 62 or older can audit a class free at any state-supported college or university. Or they can get credit for $10 per credit.

Trending: University-Based Retirement Communities

senior woman in library, to illustrate article on senior citizens returning to college

Love to read? University-based retirement communities can get you access to campus libraries.

Imagine retiring on or near your favorite college campus. Instead of offering a few courses to increase your skills or fill your day, the campus would be a major part of your life. This is what it’s like for seniors who choose to live in a university-based retirement community (UBRC).

This type of senior living immerses older adults in a college community while still giving them the continuum of care they need. That might be independent living, assisted living, or even long-term care. Residents become lifelong learners and perpetual students.

Residents at The Village at Penn State, for instance, can attend Pennsylvania State University classes free on a space-available basis. At Oak Hammock, a continuing care retirement community at the University of Florida in Gainesville, residents get campus IDs. They can take classes free at the Institute for Retirement Learning and have access to university libraries, sporting events, and cultural activities.

One More Option: Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes

Last, even if you don’t want to move next door to a university or attend regular classes, you might see if your local university has an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The institutes support the “joy of learning” at 120 college campuses across the country. For a fee, students ages 50+ enjoy non-credit classes without exams or grades.

In Arizona, recent classes at the OLLI at the University of Arizona in Tucson, for instance, have included Writing for Self Discovery, Beginning Spanish, and Women Spies and Fly Girls of World War II. Arizona State University in Tempe also has an OLLI offering short courses and lectures.

In Florida, you’ll find OLLIs at Florida International University, Florida State University, University of North Florida, and University of South Florida. In California, OLLIs exist on 10 California State University campuses and seven University of California campuses.

Are YOU Ready to Go Back to College?

It doesn’t matter if you want to go back to college to learn something new or to fulfill that lifelong dream of getting a degree. Pushing yourself to do this can make a difference not only in how you communicate and socialize with others, but in your overall well-being. Take that step today for a more enriched tomorrow.

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  • Mary Beth Adomaitis

    About :

    Mary Beth Adomaitis a freelance writer living in Southern California. She has written about senior topics for several senior living websites. She also has a blog, Unwrinkled Hearts, which was started after her mother-in-law passed away in 2015. It focuses on elderly living in the 21st century. Mary Beth has been a writer/journalist for more than 25 years, lending her talents to companies such as The Los Angeles Times, where she also served as a copy editor and graphic designer.


    1. Karen Pozzini says:

      I am 59 years old and live in Jefferson County, just outside STL,MO. Are there any universities where I can pursue a Bachelor’s degree at a Senior Citizens discount?
      Thanks so much.

    2. Hi,
      So you know anything about Illinois?
      I am 55 and disabled but would like to take some college courses.

    3. Hello,
      Do you have any information about schools in the Pittsburgh, Pa. area?
      Thank you,

    4. Katelin McKenzie says:

      I just turned 60 years old. I have been a registered nurse for 32 years however healthcare is changing. In order to continue working I need a Masters Degree but don’t want student loan debt in retirement. Can you help me find a school in California that would offer a Masters in Healthcare Adminostration MHA so I can remain competitive in the market place? I have been off work for a year recovering from several family and self issues. I can’t afford what they are asking in tuition but feel I still have a lot to offer Healthcare. Please Advise…

    5. Hi Mary Beth,
      I would like to thank you and your staff for all that you do providing seniors quality information. My mother and her sister, both over 62, discovered from your site, that they can take classes for free. After 37 years of taking classes off and on, they will now completed their degrees later this month. Thank you again:)

    6. Robert Loius says:

      Hi Mary,
      I think this is a great way for seniors to stay busy while pursuing their academic goals. This is not just beneficial in terms of getting another degree or certificate, but it can stimulate their minds by learning new things.

    7. I am a senior who lives in NYC. I have a BSN and I am interested in taking some classes unrelated to health care – possibly computer classes or history and political science? I need some info- thanks

    8. Maishakenyatta says:

      I am a senior citizen and still working as a registered nurse. Want to buy in Tacoma Washington. Need information.

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