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.)
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.