More older Americans are flocking back to the classroom now than ever before. Many professors enjoy having older students in class because the entire class benefits from the elders’ insights. Those older than 50 who want to go school may not have to dig into their own pockets to make it happen, either, since there is financial assistance available specifically for them.
By the Numbers
According to a back-to-school poll of adults age 50 and older conducted by the AARP Bulletin, one in six say they are likely to head back to school. Of those, nearly half want to sharpen their on-the-job skills and another 21 percent want to increase their income. More than half of those heading back to school have been out of the classroom for at least 15 years. According to an article in AARP Bulletin, colleges tend to see more older students in the classroom when the economy declines. Many of those students are laid-off workers trying to learn skills for new careers.
Attracting Seniors to the Classroom
According to the AARP poll, more than a third of those going back to school are doing it strictly for pleasure. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, found on the campuses of 120 colleges and universities throughout the country, provide noncredit courses and activities to attract “seasoned” adults, 50 years old and older, who want to learn just for the joy of it.
Federal and State Grants
Federal Pell Grants are for undergrads of any age who have economic need. For the 2010-2011 school year, the maximum Pell grant is $5,550. In addition to the Pell Grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant is available. Some states believe that educating older Americans is so important that they wave tuition for the seniors who live in those states. Check your individual state's department of education for more information.
Grants Especially for Women
Older women have an additional pool of money to pull from. The AARP Women’s Scholarship Fund, for instance, provides grants to women 40 years old and older. Also, the Business and Professional Women’s Institute Scholarship Program helps low-income women get a degree. Two foundations, the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation and the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, offer scholarships to “mature” students. They are not alone. The Linda Lael Miller Scholarship Program and the JRF Foundation Scholarship also offer funding to older female students.
Additional Sources of Grant Information
Because of the many grant and scholarship opportunities for older Americans, several organizations have emerged to help connect the seniors with the funds, such as scholarshipexperts.com and fastweb.com.
Annette Jones has been a journalist for 30 years, both in radio news and in print. She has worked in Boston and Washington, D.C., and has a bachelor's degree in journalism and society from the University of Mary Washington.