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

Whether it's to complete a degree, gain new knowledge or just for fun, seniors and retirees can get on (back) to school in a most inexpensive way.

Woman in college graduation gown with husband.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As a retiree, you’re already a bonafide graduate of the school of hard knocks — your decades of full-time employment. However, there’s still a lot to learn in a happy retirement. A commitment to lifelong learning can have enormous benefits, whether your goal is pursuing a second act in your career, lifelong learning to keep your brain sharp or finally completing that long-sought-after degree. The research is clear; successful retirements have healthy doses of both leisure and purpose.

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 and organizations allow elders as young as 55 to participate.

One such organization, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), offers 125 programs on university and college campuses across the country to provide "intellectually stimulating, non-credit courses and educational activities, specifically designed for people who are 50 years of age or older." By paying an inexpensive membership fee, which varies between colleges, seniors can attend noncredit courses solely for the sake of learning — there are no tests or grades.

Keep in mind that 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 some 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 if you're not looking to complete a degree. Many classes are offered online as well as in person, so if mobility or commuting is a problem, you can still attend.

Here's what you need to know about free (or cheap) college for retirees in all 50 states. 

Bob Niedt

Bob was Senior Editor at for seven years and is now a contributor to the website. He has more than 40 years of experience in online, print and visual journalism. Bob has worked as an award-winning writer and editor in the Washington, D.C., market as well as at news organizations in New York, Michigan and California. Bob joined Kiplinger in 2016, bringing a wealth of expertise covering retail, entertainment, and money-saving trends and topics. He was one of the first journalists at a daily news organization to aggressively cover retail as a specialty and has been lauded in the retail industry for his expertise. Bob has also been an adjunct and associate professor of print, online and visual journalism at Syracuse University and Ithaca College. He has a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from Hope College.


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