Misplaced Priorities: Free Senior Citizen Tuition

I learned something interesting the other day: In Connecticut, residents over the age of 62 can attend any state university or college tuition-free and with minimal fees.  Normally this wouldn’t bother me.  I am a proponent of affordable higher education and having seniors in class exposes students to unique perspectives they might otherwise not encounter.  However, given the cuts in assistance to state schools over the past few years, and the resulting tuition hikes this has spurred, it strikes me as profoundly unfair and misguided to maintain free tuition for the elderly while our youth have seen their bills increase significantly.  (Note, this does not include room & board for students that decide to live on campus.)

CSU: Connecticut State University system  CCC: Connecticut Community Colleges
Change in In-State Tuition + Fees
CSU: Connecticut State University system
CCC: Connecticut Community Colleges

It’s unclear how many seniors take advantage of this waiver in Connecticut because schools here do not break down their public demographic data by age group beyond the under-25 and over-25 categories.  That said, while I concede it is likely there are relatively few seniors enrolled in state universities, the fact that this waiver continues to exist while young students are being hit with heavy fee increases year after year is a small example of a much larger, national problem: the failure to prioritize our young people.

Perhaps one day I will write a larger blog post about the discrepancy between public spending on the elderly and spending on those 18 and under.  But for now, let me just say that when times are tough like they are today, public benefits should flow to 1) those who they are primarily intended for and 2) those who need them most.  In terms of higher education, this means putting 100% of the available state support toward funding young students.  While those aged 62 and over can certainly benefit from a college education, and society as a whole can benefit from their increase in knowledge, the primary purpose of higher education is to invest in young people.  On the whole, society will benefit far more from educating a 18 year old than from educating a 65 year old.  To fully subsidize senior citizen tuition at state universities, while forcing young students to pay more and more each year, is a shining example of misplaced priorities.

3 thoughts on “Misplaced Priorities: Free Senior Citizen Tuition”

  1. senior citizens can take courses tuition free only if there is a vacant seat available and only with permission of the instructor. The presence of a senior citizen adds no cost to the university. In fact senior citizens must meet a significant fee requirement ( over $1000) to participate in the program. This in effect contributes to the revenue of the university at little or no cost..

    1. It’s true that senior citizens can only take courses tuition free if there is a vacant seat, but their presence is not cost-free. The professors must pay attention to them in class and grade their assignments just as they would any other student. And while you’re correct that the $1000 in fees is useful to the school’s bottom line (and overall makes the seniors a net contributor) I still believe it’s evidence of a moral and political failing on society’s part. If higher education is such a great benefit to people of all ages, why should only the old be eligible for free tuition? If we are to use the same marginal cost argument, all vacant seats should be free regardless of who occupies them. This is a ridiculous proposition of course because as long as we charge students for entry to public universities it would be unsustainable. Instead we have one set of rules for one group of people and another set of rules for a different group of people. Young people must pay for school regardless of what classes they take, whereas seniors can take classes for free as long as there is a vacancy. Either school is worth charging for, or it isn’t.

  2. As a senior citizen I have taken advantage of tuition free courses and have had the opportunity to correct the instructor for presenting erroneous info. for which they invariably thank me. Instructors also state that I contribute significantly to the class based on my experience and educational background. Prior to Ronald Regan’s term as governor of California enrollment at UC Berkley was tuition free. How abt. a small wealth tax and /or a higher tax rate on the wealthy to restore tuition free higher ed for everyone.
    Instructors have the option to reject the older student’s additional burden if they choose.
    How many low income students have declined to pursue medical school because of cost considerations.
    Higher ed should be an investment in our future not a system generally benefiting the wealthier who are partially subsidized by the taxpayer at present in any case.

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