How Colleges are Catering to Seniors

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Colleges and universities across the country are finding great value in offering senior citizens access to a variety of educational outreach opportunities including online classes, lectures and a new concept of on- or near-campus retirement living arrangements. Whether seniors are interested in launching another career or taking classes that align with their academic and lifestyle interests, the avenues to education and academic involvement are making retirement look quite different than it used to.

Finding the right situation will take a little research, but with so many offerings, finding the right class or living situation will present itself to you. Tuition varies greatly among colleges and universities, as do the ways that classes are offered to seniors. Many are free or offer senior discounts, and in some cases, senior scholarships are available. Restrictions such as age, residency and income, may apply, especially for classes taken on a campus or if you are trying to qualify for a senior scholarship.

Access to online classes grows

In addition to their regular online curriculums, colleges and universities   are now   creating YouTube channels and posting free audio and video lectures   there.   Admission to these courses is a click away at YouTubeEDU. Even iTunes has gotten into the higher education game. Podcasts of lectures from highly acclaimed institutions are available at no cost at iTunesU. Visitors to both sites will discover topics from art to zoology.

AARP also recognizes a few websites as good access to free online courses and lectures: www.researchchannel.org, www.videolectures.net, and www.academicearth.org. Visitors can search each site by specific institutions or subjects which makes finding what you are looking for that much    easier. Although college-level courses covering virtually any topic can be found on the Internet, these three websites are plentiful places to begin your quest for knowledge.

More senior scholarships available  Scholarships for seniors are available to cover tuition expenses of a more traditional college course arrangement. Whether through the university or the state, scholarships designated just for the senior population provide seniors the chance to gain access to college courses at a more affordable price. Check with your state or the school you are interested in attending to find out more details.
Auditing college courses allows access without homework
This option offers a unique approach to college courses. This involves attending lectures on the college campus but without the requirement of having to do the homework or take the exams. Permission by the administration office is usually required and is a good place to start investigating options and the details of auditing a course. Many programs have a fee for auditing, but some universities and some states have programs where fees are waived for seniors. For example, the state of Florida offers its residents age 60 or older access to audit classes, without receiving college credit, through their Senior Citizen Tuition Fee Waiver program. Scholarships may also be available to help cover the costs of auditing. The specifics of how much work is required by the senior student is negotiated with the professor or the institution.

Classes offered just for seniors
Continuing education classes designed specifically for seniors can be found at some colleges. Typically, these courses last a few weeks instead of an entire semester and usually don’t require homework or taking exams.

Additionally, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI), set up at nearly 120 universities across the country, strive to meet the needs of older learners. Seniors can tap into these courses at www.osherfoundation.org and be directed to a campus near them that is part of the OLLI network. While the courses are different from campus to campus,  “the common threads remain: non-credit educational programs specifically developed for seasoned adults who are aged 50 and older; university connection and university support; and a diverse repertoire of intellectually stimulating courses,” (OLLI website).

On-campus or near-campus retirement living gives seniors a gratifying lifestyle

A relatively new development in the line-up of senior retirement living is  “university-based retirement living communities offering educational            opportunities, cultural activities, and other perks of college settings, and these attractions are luring many aging Americans back to school,” says the New York Times. Combining senior living and senior learning, these communities are becoming very popular.

According to Andrew Carle, an industry expert and founding Director of the Senior Housing Administration program at George Mason University in  Virginia,  “Roughly 50 campus retirement communities have sprung up around the country, with another 50 planned.” Many acclaimed universities are trying to attract seniors at the time of retirement by building, or being part of, a planned retirement community that is directly tied in with their schools.

Each retirement community of this type offers its own set of features and benefits. How each community is coupled with the related university is unique as well. Some are right on the campus; some are off-campus but close by. Some have nursing assistance; some do not.

The Five Characteristics of a Desirable University Retirement Community

By Andrew Carle, Director of Housing Administration, George Mason University

  1. Proximity to the host schools – If the residential communities are not right on the campus, they should be within a mile of it.
  2. Two-directional programming –Guaranteed opportunities for undergraduate or graduate students to interact with residents of the retirement community. For example, nutrition students could intern at the retirement community’s kitchen.
  3. Continuing-care options– Assisted living and nursing care are critical to these communities.
  4. Financial commitment– The host schools should demonstrate the importance of this community by sharing the financial responsibilities involved. Ten percent of the residents should be retired faculty, alumni or alumni parents with personal  connections to the school.
  5. Educational opportunities – The variety and number of courses available to the residents of these communities is paramount in attracting residents.

However, these communities are considered expensive. Entry fees typically run around six figures with additional monthly fees. Depending on the offerings and amenities, the fee structure for each community is modified and set according to the needs and wants of the residents. The Village at Penn State even covers long-term care as an inclusion in its entry fees. Campus communities can resemble continuing-care retirement communities if they incorporate many levels of care.

LasellVillage in  Massachusetts offers one of the more unique setups. They are at the top of the fee range and have a formal education requirement, the only campus retirement to currently do so. Residents must complete 450 hours of learning and physical activity by taking classes, mentoring students and volunteering in some capacity. This number correlates with the number of hours a college student typically spends in classes each year. They also refund 90 percent of the entry costs when a resident leaves or dies.

Each campus retirement community varies greatly from the next. Working with a professional financial consultant can help you determine if this is the right move for you financially in your retirement.

With colleges putting out the welcome mat for seniors, interested individuals are sure to find some kind of course, lecture, or living arrangement to enhance their learning. Whether it is a new career or an introduction to a topic you  have always wondered about, the college setting — online or physical — is a prime resource for senior students.