Retirement

Free (or Cheap) College for Retirees in All 50 States

As a retiree, you’re already a bona-fide graduate of the school of hard knocks – your decades of full-time employment. There’s still a lot to learn, however, whether your goal is pursuing a second act in your career, lifelong learning to keep your brain sharp or to finally complete that long sought-after master's.

Across the country, retirees can take advantage of free (or close to it) college courses for older residents at various public and private institutions. Some programs allow elders as young as 55 to participate.

Most free-tuition programs make older students wait until registration for classes has closed and the add-drop period has ended. In other words, paying students generally get first priority, and you’ll only be able to enroll “on a space-available basis.” In most cases, you have to go through the normal admissions process and be accepted at the college or university before you can enroll in individual classes. And while tuition may be waived, you may encounter fees to apply or register or to use labs, campus gyms, or other resources tied to a particular class. You’ll also have to pay for books and other course materials.

Many free-for-retirees programs only allow you to audit classes, meaning you won’t get college credit. That might be right up your alley, though. Also note that during the pandemic, some colleges may still be doing remote classes. Make sure you're geared up for remote learning.

Take a look.

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Alabama

All Alabama residents age 60 and older can take advantage of free tuition at two-year post-secondary institutions in the state, according to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

Senior students first must meet the school’s admission requirements. Contact the financial aid office of any of the 24 community and technical colleges in the Alabama Community College System, including Calhoun Community College in Decatur (the largest school in the system), Alabama Technical Institute and Marion Military Institute. Additionally, Alabama University at Montgomery also offers free tuition for seniors 60 and over, with restrictions.

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Alaska

The University of Alaska Board of Regents waives regular tuition for Alaska residents ages 65 or older. Those who qualify for the Senior Citizen Tuition Waiver must fill out a short form.

Enrollment is offered on a space-available basis.

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Arizona

Arizona’s tuition deal for older residents isn’t a freebie. The 10 campuses of Maricopa (County) Community Colleges offer a 50% discount on resident tuition rates (right now, $85 per credit hour) to residents 65 and older who live in the county. You must also pay registration and course-specific fees.

All for-credit classes in the college system with open seats are eligible for the senior discount. There’s no discount for non-credit courses.

If you're seeking a classroom environment designed only for seniors, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona have an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which partners with universities nationwide to offer noncredit courses to adults over the age of 50, at a $20 per semester membership fee. Check with the two universities to see if Osher is up and running during the pandemic.

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Arkansas

For Arkansas residents 60 and older, tuition and student fees are waived at all state-supported colleges, including community colleges.

This freebie applies only to for-credit courses and is offered on a space-available basis.

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California

The California State University system knows how to take care of state residents age 60 and over. Tuition is waived for all state-supported colleges.

But wait, there’s more: California state colleges also waive application fees, as well as any activity fees associated with your classes, for older students. You’ll pay just $1 for student fees covering the student body association and health facilities, among other campus benefits.

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Colorado

At Colorado State University, “lifelong learners” age 55 and older can attend classes for free on a space-available basis -- but you won’t get college credits for those classes. For each class, you must submit a Lifetime Learner Class Visitation Request FormWhile student services like student health, counseling, and event tickets are not available to lifelong learners, technology charges will not be assessed.  

At the University of Colorado Denver, folks 60 and older can audit classes for free. You cannot take classes that require a lab or special equipment, computer classes, courses with the university’s Division of Extended Studies, and any courses requiring additional fees. There are other restrictions, including a limit of two courses per semester.

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Connecticut

Connecticut waives tuition at state colleges and universities for residents 62 and older. This applies to the University of Connecticut, Connecticut State University and the state’s 12 regional community-technical colleges.

Credits from the courses can be applied to a degree. There are parameters: The tuition waiver at UConn and CSU kicks in when the applicant age 62 and older is admitted to the university and has enrolled in a degree program. There also must be enough room in the course at the end of registration after paying students have enrolled. And while you do get free tuition, any additional class fees are on you.

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Delaware

Delaware’s three public higher-education institutions – the University of Delaware, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical and Community College – waive tuition and other fees for Delaware residents 60 and over. It's a state law.

Classes are made available to older residents after tuition-paying students have signed up. Older applicants must be pursuing a formal degree and meet all the requirements for that class (for example, if it’s open only to students who are majoring in that subject).

Free tuition doesn't mean everything is free: 60-and-over students must pay for lab fees, books and other supplies related to the course.

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District of Columbia

D.C. residents age 65 and older can take as many as two courses per semester for free at the University of the District of Columbia

At private Georgetown University, D.C. residents age 65 and older may audit (not take for college credit) undergraduate-level courses, as space is available. The classes are $50 each, pending approval of your application by individual professors. Georgetown says the Senior Citizen Auditor Program is part of the university’s mission of educating “women and men to be reflective lifelong learners, to be responsible and active participants in civic life, and to live generously in service to others.”

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Florida

All of Florida’s state universities by law waive tuition and fees for any Florida resident older than 60 taking for-credit classes. (You won’t actually earn credits toward a degree.) Paying students, as well as state employees, get first dibs on classes. If there’s room, you’re in.

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Georgia

As it is in a few other states, free education for senior citizens is mentioned in Georgia's state constitution.

There are 31 public colleges and universities in Georgia’s state university system, and all offer free courses for resident-students age 62 and older.

“People do hear about it and send us e-mails saying, ‘What do I have to do? What’s it about?’” Mark Daddona, associate vice president for enrollment management and academic services at Clayton State University, told news outlet the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “What people do need to know first is that they must follow the usual application process to apply.”

That means you do everything you did in high school when you applied for college the first time around.

Retirees taking advantage of Georgia’s free college courses may have to pay nominal fees, such as application fees, books and parking permits. Paying students are first in line, and you’ll be admitted on a space-available basis.

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Hawaii

All residents of Hawaii age 60 and older can attend courses for free at the University of Hawaii and state community colleges. It's through the Senior Citizen Visitor Progam (also known as Nā Kūpuna Program, which means "honored ancestor").

No college credit is given, and no permanent records are kept.

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Idaho

The University of Idaho permits Idaho residents age 60 and older to enroll in UoI courses on a space-available basis. The cost: $20, plus $5 per credit hour.

You must wait to register until after regular registration ends (the university would rather fill the class with those paying). Participants must pay other fees, including lab fees and special course fees.

Under this program, participants only get class instruction and library privileges. You won’t get the perks associated with being a paying student, including free admission to athletic events or access to the recreation center.

Other Idaho institutions offering free or low-cost tuition to seniors include Boise State University, the College of Southern Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College.

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Illinois

When you turn 65 in Illinois and your household meets the low-income requirements, tuition is waived for regularly scheduled for-credit courses at the University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and Western Illinois University, as well as all public community colleges.

Anyone taking advantage of this must first be accepted at the university or college. You’re on the hook for other fees, including student fees and lab fees. Tuition-paying students get first dibs at the classes; you’ll be able to join if there’s space.

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Indiana

Indiana isn’t as generous as other states. Its residents age 65 and older can enroll in for-credit courses in degree programs at the state’s public universities at 50% of the normal in-state tuition cost-- on up to nine credits per semester. Lab fees, as well as application and registration fees, are the responsibility of the student.

Participating schools include those under the Indiana State University and Indiana University flags.

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Iowa

We found one private four-year college, Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, that allows folks 65 and older to take non-credit classes tuition-free. Looking at for-credit courses? You can take those for the discounted rate of $375 per credit hour. Lab courses aren’t free or discounted. The caveats: All the classes are on a space-available basis, and you can only take one class per semester.

Additionally, Des Moines Area Community College offers students 62 and over one free for-credit course per semester.

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Kansas

A variety of Kansas colleges and universities allow state residents age 60 and older to audit certain classes (meaning no college credit or grade) for free.

One school is the University of Kansas, which requires that these older students have to apply to be admitted as a non-degree-seeking student or graduate student.

Other schools include Washburn University and Wichita State University

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Kentucky

Residents of Kentucky age 65 and older can take classes for free on a space-available basis at the state’s public colleges and universities. Fees are the responsibility of the student.

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Louisiana

Louisiana’s public colleges and universities waive tuition and registration fees for residents 55 and older. You’ll also pay half-price for “reference books, manuals, and other aids to instruction which are required by any course in which such student is enrolled when purchased from a public college or university-operated bookstore.”

 

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Maine

The University of Maine college system offers free college tuition for senior citizens (age 65 and older). That includes those pesky mandatory fees colleges and universities so famously tack on to bills.

This freebie includes undergraduate courses for credit or audit at any University of Maine outpost. Acceptance is on a space-available basis.

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Maryland

The University System of Maryland knows retirees are craving college knowledge. To that end, folks 60 (the age identified by the University System of Maryland as “senior citizen” territory) or older get their tuition waived at any of the schools for up to three courses per semester. Oh, and the state requires those taking advantage of this to be retired, as in their “chief income is derived from retirement benefits and [they are] not employed full-time.”  It’s up to each institution to determine space availability in each course to accommodate the free-riders.

Depending on the college you are applying to within the system, you may have to pay application, registration or other fees (some schools waive those fees).

Bonus: If you apply and receive the system’s Golden Identification Card, you will be “eligible for any privileges (for example, use of the libraries)” that the particular school you’re attending deems worthy, including student events. Unless you’re enrolled as a full-time student, retirees cannot use the health facilities unless there’s an emergency.

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Massachusetts

Public universities and colleges within Massachusetts’ higher education system waive tuition for state residents over 60, which the Commonwealth dubs “senior citizens” (along with several other states, Massachusetts also waives tuition for Native Americans, members of the military and others).

Other fees may also be waived, depending on the school. To apply for the tuition waiver, applicants are urged to contact the school’s financial aid office.

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Michigan

You’ll have to do some legwork to see if the public college or university you want to attend as a Michigan state resident offers free or reduced tuition for retirees. It’s all over the place in Michigan, the state where I proudly got my undergraduate degree.

Northern Michigan University, for example, offers “full tuition scholarships” to residents 62 and older. (Off-campus and online courses are excluded.) You must follow the application process (fee is waived), and you’ll have to pay for books and course fees.

More examples:

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Minnesota

Residents 62 and older can attend courses for credit (or audit them) tuition-free at the University of Minnesota and throughout the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Activity fees are also waived, but, under the program, these students must pay for administrative fees (unless auditing the course) and any materials or service charges tacked onto the courses.

For example, the University of Minnesota allows senior citizens to audit courses for free, but charges $10 per credit if you’re taking the program for college credit (that’s a bargain; costs per credit are $520.50 for other, younger tuition-paying students who are state residents). You’re also responsible for paying for required lab, course and material fees.

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Mississippi

Unlike many other states, Mississippi hasn’t put into statewide law a program for free (or nearly so) college tuition. But like other states, including Michigan, you can find some incentives at specific universities and colleges for later-in-life learning.

Through the University of Mississippi Lifelong Learners Program, Ole Miss seniors age 65 can enroll tuition-free in one academic course (up to four credits). You’ll attend classes with the young’uns at any University of Mississippi campus. Mississippi State University also caters to true seniors. State residents age 60 or older can take up to two on-campus classes per semester tuition-free, a combination of no more than 18 credit hours per academic year. Space is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. And as the university points out, “senior citizen students are responsible for paying any course or laboratory fees; distance fees; cost of course materials or textbooks. Credit hours taken in excess of the specified limits of this policy shall be paid by the senior citizen as the actual tuition for those hours.”

In the case of both universities, it's important to note seniors have to go through the normal application process.

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Missouri

Missouri residents age 65 and older are guaranteed under state law a scholarship that includes a tuition waiver to any state college or university. Scholarship awardees do not get college credit for courses taken, and acceptance into a course is on a space-available basis. The school can impose a registration fee of no more than $25 per semester. You must go through the application process.

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Montana

The Montana State University System – including the University of Montana and Montana State University campuses, as well as community colleges – is most welcoming to later-in-life learners. Schools within the system grant tuition waivers (or acceptance to the Golden College Program, as the University of Montana calls it) to residents age 65 and older. Only tuition is covered; all other fees are the responsibility of the senior student.

Applications are accepted the third week of the semester after yielding to tuition-paying students; you may have three weeks or more worth of catching up to do once accepted into a course.

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Nebraska

There’s no statewide program in Nebraska to waive tuition for older students, but you may find free or discounted tuition at individual colleges. For example, Chadron State College offers a tuition waiver program to residents age 65 and older. You’re allowed to audit one course per semester on a space-available basis.

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Nevada

The University of Nevada Las Vegas joins with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to bring classes to seniors on a variety of topics. UNLV notes the "OLLI at UNLV program is designed specifically for retired and semi-retired adults who are interested in continuing their education and having the opportunity to meet new and interesting peers."

Members can attend as many classes as they like, on a space available basis. Registration is $90 for the fall or spring semester. Annual memberships are $175.

Past courses include The American Election SystemFilms of David LeanNevada History, and more.

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New Hampshire

Residents age 65 and older can take as many as two for-credit courses per academic year tuition-free at the University of New Hampshire. The student is responsible for all other costs for the class, including fees and mandatory class materials. Enrollment is offered on a space-available basis.

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New Jersey

The Garden State makes it clear as mud that residents age 65 and older take course tuition free at the state’s public colleges and universities. The language is murky: “Each public institution of higher education in N.J. may, if they so choose, permit persons of the age of 65 or more years to enroll in regularly scheduled courses without the payment of any tuition charges, provided that available classroom space permits, and provided that tuition-paying students constitute the minimum number required for the course.” You’re responsible for any additional fees.

So yes, it’s up to the school you wish to attend (contact the registrar’s office of the public college that interests you).

Rutgers, one of Jersey’s state universities, has its Senior Citizen Audit Program where state residents age 62 can attend classes on a space-available, non-credit basis tuition-free at one of Rutgers’ campuses. These must be classroom-based courses. Online courses don’t fall under the program.

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New Mexico

New Mexico’s bid to put retirees into (or back into) college classes isn’t free, but it’s darn cheap. It comes under the guidance of the Senior Citizens Reduced Tuition Act of 1984. Each of the state’s public, post-secondary degree-granting institutions must grant a tuition reduction to senior citizens [age 65 or older] upon request by the student. The fee: $5 per credit hour.

Some caveats: You must meet course requirements; you can take only up to six credit hours per semester; enroll in the campus you wish to attend for that college; pay any additional mandatory course fees; and enroll if there is space available.

 

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New York

There's a bill introduced in the 2019-2020 legislative session to allow residents over 65 to enroll tuition-free in a limited number of credit classes. It’s currently still in committee.

For now, tuition is waived for Empire State residents 60 and older who audit for-credit classes at any of the state’s public colleges and universities. The SUNY (State University of New York) campuses are located throughout the state.

For example, At SUNY Purchase, New York state residents 60 and older pay a $50 audit fee, $20 ID processing fee, and any course fees to enroll in a maximum of two for-credit courses on a space-available basis.

There are restrictions and fees, of course. You’ll have to contact the instructor or the college to see if space is available, and you may have to wait until the add/drop period ends, meaning you’ll miss a handful of classes if you eventually get in.

You are responsible for any fees beyond tuition, such as registration and other fees (they can vary widely between each school) and mandatory class materials. There may also be small audit fees, depending on the school.

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North Carolina

Good news for retirees eyeing North Carolina as a landing pad for their golden years: State residents 65 and older can, on a space-available basis, audit classes tuition-free at the campuses of the University of North Carolina, as well as the state’s community colleges. Registration fees are waived, too, but there may be an application fee, depending on the college.

Want to earn college credit? Residents 65 and older can take as many as six hours of for-credit courses at the state’s community colleges each semester.

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North Dakota

Unlike many other states, North Dakota doesn’t have a law granting free or nearly free tuition to its older residents. However, with a little digging, you can find tuition-free programs at some of the state’s schools.

North Dakota State University, under its Project 65 policy, people 65 and older can audit one course per semester. Tuition and related mandatory fees are waived. Participants need clearance to audit courses from the academic department teaching the course. Since it's an audited course, grades and credit are not given.

Bismarck State College, for example, allows state residents 65 and older to take one course per semester tuition-free on a space-available basis. The waiver does not include fees and other mandatory class expenses.

At Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, students 65 and older can audit classroom courses on a space-available basis but must pay for fees and mandatory class materials.

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Ohio

All of Ohio’s public universities and colleges, including community colleges, allow residents age 60 and older to audit courses tuition-free if space is available. Instructors of individual courses must approve your application, and, you are also responsible for any course fees, such as lab fees and other mandatory course materials..

State law permits schools to forbid enrollment in certain classes “in which physical demands upon students are inappropriate for imposition upon persons 60 years of age or older.” (That wouldn’t rule out the one physical-education course I took in college – Bowling, Ping-Pong and Pool.)

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Oklahoma

Oklahomans age 65 and older can audit classes at the state’s public colleges and universities tuition-free, provided there’s space available. Fees are also waived.

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Oregon

The University of Oregon allows state residents 65 and older to audit select courses tuition-free if space is available and the course instructor approves. You must pay any mandatory course fees. Some courses, including creative writing, can only be taken by older auditors in the summer.

Oregon State University waives tuition and fees for residents 65 and older auditing eight or fewer credits each term. Enrollment is offered on a space-available basis with permission from the instructor. You also must fill out OSU’s non-degree admission application and pay a $30 non-refundable application fee.

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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has no sweeping law on its books that allows older students to take classes tuition-free. However, hunt a little, and you can find some. For example, the Pennsylvania State University system offers a Go-60 program, where state residents 60 and up retired or working no more than 20 hours a week can take up to six credits each semester, for credit or audit, tuition-free.

Clarion University of Pennsylvania, for example, allows folks 62 and older the ability to audit as many as 12 credits worth of classes tuition- and fee-free, provided there’s space available. You will have to pay for your textbooks and other mandatory course materials.

Many community colleges in the state also offer free tuition to older students. Bucks County Community College, near Philadelphia, allows county residents 65 and older to enroll tuition-free in for-credit courses on a space-available basis. There may be registration fees you’ll have to pay.

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Rhode Island

The University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island all offer tuition waivers to lower-income state residents 60 and older. (Fill out this worksheet from Rhode Island College to see if you qualify.) Older students must pay all other fees, according to the University of Rhode Island, and can either audit classes (and get no grade) or take the course for credit.

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South Carolina

It's the law: All South Carolina residents 60 and older can attend any state-funded college tuition-free on a space-available basis. This includes courses taken for credit or audited. You’ll have to apply for enrollment to the school you are interested in attending, and you’ll be on the hook for any course fees, textbooks and other mandatory materials.

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South Dakota

State residents 65 and older get a 45% discount on tuition at participating state colleges, including campuses of South Dakota State University, the University of South Dakota, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Northern State University, Dakota State University and Black Hills State University.

The discount applies only to tuition, not fees or other expenses associated with the course. You can take courses for credit or simply audit them. Online courses are not covered.

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Tennessee

Retiring in Tennessee and establishing residency has its benefits if you’re hoping to extend your education at a ridiculously low cost. All state-supported universities and colleges (including community colleges) allow residents 65 and older (and possibly 55 and older if you qualify) to take courses for credit tuition-free. Any other fees (maintenance, activity or student activity fees) are also waived.

You will have to pay a small record-keeping fee ($45 a quarter or $70 per semester).

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Texas

Texas residents 65 and older can take as many as six credit hours per semester at Texas state-funded colleges and universities (it's the law). You also can audit as many as six hours of courses per semester. Fees and other costs (textbooks, labs, etc.) are the responsibility of the student.

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Utah

Utah law states there is free lunch for its older residents, if by “lunch” you mean college tuition. Residents 62 and older can enroll in regularly scheduled classes (space permitting) at Utah colleges and universities and are exempt from tuition and other charges. These are audited courses, per the University of Utah. You’ll also need a University of Utah student card to use the library and such, and that’s $10 for your first card.

You also may encounter a registration fee that varies by institution: the University of Utah charges a $25 per semester, and Salt Lake Community College charges a fee of $10 per semester.

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Vermont

Vermont residents 65 and older can audit tuition-free one course per semester at a college in the Vermont State Colleges System, including Castleton College, Community College of Vermont, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College.

If you want to take more classes than that, you can. You’ll get a 50% discount off the regular tuition rate for each course and can earn credits that count toward an undergraduate degree.

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Virginia

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia spells out that under Virginia law, “senior citizens” age 60 and over can audit up to three non-credit courses per term, quarter or semester tuition-free at public colleges and universities. The senior citizen must meet admission requirements and may enroll only if space is available after tuition-paying students have vied for the class. The colleges may make individual exceptions to these procedures for any senior citizen who has completed 75 percent of the requirements for a degree.

All seniors with tuition waivers have to buy their own textbooks and pay all fees for course materials, according to the Northern Virginia Community College system.

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Washington

Washington state law mandates its state universities, regional universities, The Evergreen State's colleges and Washington’s community colleges and tech schools “waive, in whole or in part, the tuition and services and activities fees for students” 60 and older. This is for courses for credit. The law also says state schools can charge a nominal fee ($5) for senior citizens auditing a course That's $5 per course at the likes of South Seattle College and Bellevue College. At Spokane Falls Community College, the fee is $2.50 per class, so hey, it varies depending on the institution.

As the University of Washington’s website points out, senior auditors are admitted to classes (up to six credit hours per semester) as a non-matriculated student. You do not take tests, write papers or participate in class discussion. Some courses are off-limits.

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West Virginia

West Virginia law mandates the state’s public colleges and universities offer citizens age 65 and older “to attend courses at a reduced tuition and fee level.” This could be for credit or non-credit courses.

That same code limits total tuition and fees charged for non-credit course to not exceed $50 and for for-credit courses, charges cannot exceed 50% for the normal rates charged for tuition to in-state residents.

At West Virginia University, students who submit the senior citizens application are admitted as non-degree students. Indicate on the form whether you want credit There’s a $5 application fee.

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Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin System of colleges and universities allows residents 60 and older to audit classes tuition-free on a space-available basis.

You’ll need to seek the instructor’s approval, and you can provisionally attend the class until the add/drop deadline reveals whether space is available. You’re responsible for lab fees, textbooks, and other course materials.

Other colleges and universities in Wisconsin have special programs for retirees, including Marquette University, which offers state residents 62 and older a 50% discount on graduate courses for credit. You also can audit (no grades, no credit) undergraduate courses at half the normal tuition price. For those over 62 interested in graduate courses, they must “have the proper background and prerequisites for the course in question."

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Wyoming

Wyoming residents 65 and older can attend classes at the University of Wyoming on a space-available basis at no cost. You must be admitted to the university and show proof of age and state residence.

Some of Wyoming’s community colleges also offer special incentives for retirees. For example, Laramie County Community College offers students age 60 and over to enroll in for-credit courses at a discounted rate of 20% of the resident tuition rate plus all course fees. To qualify, the student must bring his/her driver's license to the Student Hub at the beginning of the semester.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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