Laura L. Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity says, “It makes no sense … to have an educational system that ends in the 20s when people are likely to be working into their 80s. We need to rethink these things."
According to Forbes, adult students are now the majority of degree seekers in the United States; and even in their 50s or 60s, there can be a significant economic upside to earning or completing a college degree.
People often go back to college to search for a second-chapter career, stay competitive in the current workforce, create new challenges for themselves, and realize a long-held goal.
It is estimated that by 2030, the number of Americans 65 and older will grow to 72 million, up from 40.2 million held in the census year 2010. The number of graduate and postgraduate students ages 50 to 64 has been climbing steadily—from 625,000 in 2007 to as many as 750,000 in 2011.
Financial Aid or Just Aid
Ask yourself these questions before you go back to school:
- Is there a vibrant job market in your chosen field with plenty of openings?
- How many years will you continue to work after earning your degree?
- Is this a good fiscal move—meaning, do you have savings to pay for most of the expense or can you get financing? A scholarship or grant? A waiver?
- Is the subject matter still a draw for you?
- Is your family behind your decision and ready to support your efforts?
Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) aid such as the Stafford, and Plus loans are available; the Pell grant or Supplemental Education Opportunity grants are open to students without bachelor’s degrees. These offerings mean you will need to enroll at least half time in a degree plan.
Look for tax breaks: The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit or the annual $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit are options and taxpayers under a certain income level can deduct student loan interest. If you have invested in a 529 account for your children and there is a balance, make the beneficiary—You.
Find free courses because at many state universities and colleges, residents 60 and older who meet set requirements can use tuition waivers to take for-credit courses, gratis. If courses for credit aren’t offered, mature students might still be able to audit a class without paying, gaining no credit but gleaning plenty of knowledge and confident know-how.
And now exhaust the possibilities for free online courses from many universities and colleges. There are courses in song-writing, learning Chinese, including telescope adventures and many more unusual topics.
Non-Traditional Colleges, Really?
Harvard has the Advanced Leadership Initiative, a program where they tap into the experience of a socially conscious generation of leaders that help to redirect and broaden their skills to fill critical leadership gaps in solving major social issues. In 2009, a select group of Fellows have transitioned from their primary income-earning careers to act as change agents for society.
Too select? Many retirees move back to college and university towns. According to Kiplinger, retirees who live on the Tuscaloosa campus of the University of Alabama are conquering the classroom. In 2010, the university bought a senior complex: Capstone Village. There are apartment rentals, garden homes and assisted living properties. The program organizers regularly plan outings to football and basketball games, concerts and other activities on campus.
Career Focus: Worth It?
There are several careers at midlife that make sense, offering pay that will justify the cost of your additional education and time. Some of these jobs are: registered nurse, medical nurse, elementary school teacher, restaurant cook, and market research analyst, among others.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a Career Outlook page with the subtitle: Finding hot jobs. Look over the data, wages, outlook and demand, etc. (See the reference area below for the link.) You have accomplished so much already, with a little in-depth research, you can find yourself back into an interesting school subject and into work life in less time than you think.
- Stanford Center on Longevity
- Advanced Leadership Initiative: Harvard
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Hot jobs
- Senior Citizens Can Go to College for Free or Cheap in All 50 States
- The New York Times. “Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career”
- A Senior Citizen Guide for College
- Kiplinger. “Retirees Return to College Just for the Fun of It.”
- IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education
- O’Connor, Austin. “Ready for Your Next Act? Higher education has a new buzzword: Encore!
- Chatzky, Jean. “Headed Back to School? There’s plenty of financial help out there it you know where to look.” AARP The Magazine
- 400 free online courses with credits that can count towards your degree: