Opportunities for Low-Cost College Classes for Older Adults

Carter Ross

Mentally stimulating activities can help hold at bay cognitive decline as we age. While do the morning crossword puzzle is good, research out of Australia has found that going back to college can be quite effective in building brain power.

The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project found that more than 90 percent of the older adults in the study who attended a local university for at least one year as a full- or part-time student displayed an increase in cognitive capacity on a series of tests compared to just 56 percent of the control group who didn’t take college classes. The researchers concluded that the intellectual stimulation of taking a class, along with the social aspects of being in a college classroom, help to maximize the cognitive capacity of the brain.

A wide range of education options are available in the District, including lecture programs at museums, embassies, and think tanks and the city’s numerous institutions of higher learning.

For District residents, several local universities offer discounted access to college classes for older adults looking to exercise their brain while learning something new. These provide you an opportunity to audit classes alongside degree-seeking students, participating in discussions and completing assignments, but without earning college credit. Space in these classes is limited and priority is given to degree-seeking students, so you are not guaranteed a spot in the classroom.

Since 1978, the University of the District of Columbia has offered District residents age 65 and older the opportunity to audit classes for free, so long as they meet the course prerequisites, through its Senior Tuition Program. Under the program, tuition costs and typical fees are waived, except for at $35 application fee. It is also possible to earn a degree from UDC through the program; in that case, students are responsible for half of the normal tuition and fees. Proof of age and residence are required.

At UDC, you can take undergraduate or graduate-level classes, if you meet the admission requirements for UDC; even if you don’t meet the admission requirements, you can still audit classes through the UDC Community College. The UDC Senior Tuition Program is run through the UDC Institute of Gerontology and enrollment is handled in person at the UDC Van Ness Campus. For more information, download this presentation or contact Patricia Williams at pmwilliams@udc.edu.

Similarly, Georgetown University allows those over 65 to audit undergraduate classes, so long as space is available and the professor approves the request. Participants are charged $32 per credit to audit the class — for example, the typical 3-credit lecture class would cost $96 to audit — plus any fees required for the class. Registration for Georgetown’s Senior Auditor Program is handled by the University Registrar. For more information, visit https://registrar.georgetown.edu/senior-citizen-non-degree-auditor-program/ or email seniorauditor@georgetown.edu.

American University allows people 55 and older who live in DC ZIP codes 20016, 20015, 20008, and 20007 to audit courses, too. The different schools within AU may limit which classes can be audited and professor approval is usually required. The cost to audit a class is $150 per course. Registration for the program is handled through the AU Alumni Office. For more information, visit https://www.american.edu/alumni/benefits/education/alumni-audit/index.cfm or email alumniaudit@american.edu.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at American University was the first lifelong-learning program in the District (and only the fourth in the country) when in launched in 1982. Instead of traditional college classes, OLLI is built around a peer learning and teaching model. Participants lead or attend study groups; there are no tests or grades, and the focus is on the joy of learning. The OLLI membership fee is $300 for one semester or $550 for two semesters. Additional short course periods have a $100 fee. Scholarships are available. For more details about the program, visit https://www.olli-dc.org/ or email OLLI@american.edu.

For those not interested in a traditional classroom setting, DOROT’s University Without Walls program, based in New York, offers older adults the option to take classes from home via telephone. For more information, visit https://www.dorotusa.org/our-programs/at-home/university-without-walls.

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