Too Old for Free College

While public colleges across the country are apparently
increasing the fees they charge in-state students, there’s at least one state university still offering free tuition. But many potential students aren’t interested. That may be because students have to be elderly to qualify.

According to an article by Jeff Richardson in the Fairbanks Daily News:

[The University of Alaska] provides free tuition to Alaskans who are eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits, generally age 65 and older. But in the past five years the offer has often gone unclaimed, with participation declining by about two-thirds.

In 2006 the waiver attracted 632 senior citizens throughout the state, who took 1,262 courses. Those numbers declined to just 222 seniors and 321 courses last year. UA officials say they aren’t sure why participation has slipped, but a tight economy, changing age requirements and other opportunities for courses could play a role.

In 2005 the university’s board of regents considered eliminating the program to save money but the state’s senior citizens apparently protested. And so the state changed the eligibility requirements. Free tuition used to be available to those over age 60. Now students must be over 65.

In addition, the enrollment process is now more complicated. Students must sign up for courses with openings available on the first day. Four years ago there were more openings available because the school automatically dropped students from the course who hadn’t paid for their courses. Now the college has a grace period, giving regular students a longer time to pay up. But this means less spots available for the older students.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer