Once all the traveling, leisure reading, and relaxing is out of their systems, what is a retiree to do with their time? They could always go back to work, maybe part-time, but then what’s the point of being retired? Or they could do what hundreds of thousands of other senior citizens are doing and hit the books.
Of the 17 million college students in the United States, more than half a million of these students are over the age of 50, according to the 2005 US Census Bureau. These “lifelong learners,” as they like to be called, are going back to school for many different economic, intellectual and even spiritual reasons.
For those retiring at age 62, the age for collecting full Social Security retirement benefits increased from 65 to 67 over a twenty-two-year period beginning in 2000. The Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that nearly half of baby boomers born between 1948 and 1954—who are now between the ages of 56 and 62—are at risk of not having enough money in retirement to pay for basic expenditures. To supplement their income, many retirees will choose to go back to work. But with changing technological times, the skills required for the new work force are very different than they were fifty years ago. Instead of sitting in front of a computer and relying on Google, retirees would rather sit in a classroom.
To lifelong learners, however, it’s not always about more income. In a piece for the Huffington Post, Dave Carpenter spoke with several of these students, many of whom have already earned their bachelor’s, master’s or even PH Ds. After decades of missing the smell of a new textbook or the middle finger blister from a number 2 pencil, these students just want to be physically and mentally engaged again.
As Carpenter explains, continuing education may be easier than the learners thought, considering that more and more community colleges and four-year schools are offering discounts, tuition waivers and other deals to make it happen.
About 84 percent of community colleges in the United States offer courses for students aged 50 and older, and many, as Carpenter cites “allow seniors to audit classes for free and significantly reduce tuition for those who take them for credit.” According to FinAid.org, twenty-one states and Washington, DC, offer tuition waivers for seniors at some or all of their public colleges.
Last year, as part of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, the Senior Scholarships program was created to help citizens who are 55 or older get funding for the education. The program provides $1,000 education awards to seniors who volunteer for 350 hours or more a year. The best part is, they can use that money for their own education or for their child’s, foster child’s or grandchild’s education.
Programs and incentives like these not only help the individual, but they also help remove isolation between the demographics. Education is not just about a degree. It’s about a feeling, a self-confidence, a sense of community and a knowledge that expands much further than the 140-plus pages of a history book.