Taking college courses can be a fun way to learn as a retiree

We’ve already covered the ways that you can take advantage of online college courses, but what about classes you can take in person? As it turns out, wonderful opportunities exist for seniors at community colleges and other higher learning institutions, and the benefits can be wide-ranging.

It’s Relatively Cheap

College savings coins in a jarAs of right now, tuition is waived for Empire State residents 60 and older who audit for-credit classes at any of the state’s public colleges and universities. There are often fees and stipulations, but they are small potatoes compared to what it would cost to enroll as a full-time student. For example, at SUNY Schenectady you can audit a class tuition-free for two credit-bearing, on-campus courses for a $50 audit fee, $20 ID processing fee (because you need a student ID) and any associated course fees. The state legislature currently has a bill as well that would allow residents over 65 to enroll tuition-free in a limited number of credit classes, too.

Restrictions exist, of course. The class has to have space (tuition-paying students get first dibs), so you might need to wait until the add/drop period ends to officially register. But this applies to in-person, hybrid, and online courses, so the possibilities are almost endless.

School Keeps You Sharp

Learning new things helps you stay sharp at any ageOne way to stave off signs of cognitive decline is to keep your mind elastic by challenging it. The World Health Organization includes learning and developing new skills as an essential factor in aging healthily. One recent study found learning multiple skills simultaneously (as we do more frequently when we are younger when it is necessary for our development/school years) is not only feasible but potentially beneficial for older adults. The study notes: “Learning multiple skills simultaneously increased cognitive abilities in older adults by midpoint of the intervention, to levels similar to performance in a separate sample of middle-aged adults, 30 years younger.” So, in other words: if you exercise your mind, you’ll have the brains of a person half your age. Similarly, the Alzheimer’s Association encourages seniors to pursue continuing education because it can help prevent the development of dementia, as well as increase cognitive function and feelings of confidence and purpose.

Stay Current

People in a classroom on computersWith technological developments flying ahead at warp speed, it can be easy to settle into our ways and suddenly find ourselves unable to adapt to new forms of communication. It helps to have adult children who insist on keeping you technologically up to date, but it can be much more interesting (and pleasant for all involved) to get tutorials and instruction from professionals. Why not take a computer class, and learn all about the software and online platforms that already seem a bit confusing?

If you haven’t fully retired yet, auditing a college course can also be a great way to stay abreast of developments in your field that you may not be able to learn on the job. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, about 19 percent of individuals over 65 are still working — some by choice, and others by necessity. By 2026, that number is expected to rise to 22 percent (thanks, tanking economy.) Seniors who are still part of the workforce need to stay up-to-date with technology in order to not lose their position to a younger employee, to keep their marketable job skills current, or even to start a second career.

Build Community and Make Friends

Meeting people after retirement doesn't have to be in a retirement communityA report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) points out that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss. Not only is loneliness challenging, but it can also lead to health issues such as dementia, heart disease, and depression.

One way to prevent this is to make sure you are able to participate in some kind of thriving community. One that, maybe, has the infrastructure to provide social activities, intellectual enrichment, and other group opportunities with people of all ages. Cough cough… like a college campus, perhaps. Enrolling in a class or two can make it easier to make new friends and connect with other people who enjoy the same things you do. Age doesn’t need to be a limitation when you share common interests, and your hard-earned years of experience can be a major asset for classes that require group interaction. 

School Can Be Really Rewarding

Mature woman graduating from collegeDid you ever have a dream job that you dismissed because it didn’t pay well enough? Have you ever been utterly fascinated by a subject but didn’t have the time or ability to pursue it in depth? Maybe retirement is the time to indulge those fantasies and learn about the things that might have been put on the back burner all those years that you were raising a family and earning a living. Learn how to paint with watercolors, or study Greek mythology or underwater basket-weaving. If not now, when?

Challenging yourself with new subject matters can be highly rewarding. Not only does it help prevent cognitive decline (as mentioned above), but it can produce feelings of satisfaction that might be surprising. One study even went so far as to proclaim that when you are engaged in a subject and feel successful in your work, your brain produces some of the same chemicals as falling in love. So fall in love with something again, and be enriched, engaged, and educated.

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