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Going Back to School in Retirement

Ready to get in on this growing trend? An expert shares how to find the best college program for you.


It's not just kids who are heading back to school this fall. A growing number of seniors are returning to the classroom post-retirement, seeking intellectual stimulation, social connections, preparation for second-act careers, and volunteering opportunities.

"The trend of retirees going back to school has really grown in the past 20 to 25 years," says Jim Emerman, executive vice president of Encore.org, an organization that leverages the skills and talents of experienced adults to improve communities and the world.

The higher education sector has responded to the demand. One of the ways is with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Plus 50 Initiative. Available at more than 100 community colleges nationwide, the program focuses on degree and certificate programs that help people age 50 and older launch new careers in sectors such as education, health care, and social services. Community college typically costs about $3,500 a year, but the Plus 50 Initiative provides information on resources for financial aid if you need assistance. To find out if the program is offered at a community college near you, visit the AACC website.

State colleges and universities are another great resource for older adults. Many allow retirees to audit or sit-in on classes without paying tuition. One such program is Pennsylvania State University's Go-60, available to state residents age 60 and older who are retired or work 20 hours per week or less. Each semester, Go-60 participants can choose from dozens of classes that are part of Penn State's continuing education curriculum, and as long as there are seats available in a class, they can attend tuition-free.

Pennsylvania isn't the only state with tuition-free classes for seniors. California, Delaware, and Maryland also have programs for residents age 60 and older. Some states, like Connecticut and South Carolina, have even passed laws making it mandatory for state schools to allow senior citizens to attend college classes tuition-free. Check with your state's department of aging or education department to see if similar benefits exist where you live.