“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
Henry Ford – Industrialist
Retirement is a time of exploration and one very important element of this involves educational opportunities. What things would you like to know more about, but have not had the time to learn? For me, I would like to understand how the economy works, learn to speak Spanish, and further a lifelong interest in astronomy. Because of my work schedule, I have been unable to take advantage of the numerous courses offered as part of the local junior college system on these topics. However, in retirement, I will have the time to explore.
In this article, I will review several educational options for seniors. These are options that are low or no cost. One of the advantages of getting older is that you are more likely to seek educational opportunities because you want to learn about the topic, not to attain some sort of certification. If this describes you, then there is a world of possibilities that are open. Let’s take a look at some of the options.
STATE COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES
Most states have either formal policies or actual state statutes that allow residents over the age of 60, 62, or 65 (depending on the state) to attend colleges in the system free or at a substantially reduced cost. Most of these are on a space available basis and do not offer credit for completion of a course. But, if you just want to explore and learn, this could be perfect for you.
The states that have these no- or low-cost education policies for seniors are:
Two year colleges only: Alabama
Four year colleges only: California, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, South Dakota
Both two- and four-year colleges: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming
In some instances, there might be restrictions, but check with the specific state to determine the limitations. This can be a good option depending on the content you are after and whether you need the structure of a formal class.
ON-LINE EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES
Over the last couple of years, educational opportunities delivered on-line have blossomed. These run the gamut from formal classes delivered through streaming video lectures, multiple-video modules focused on general topics, or relatively short video clips focused on a narrow topic. Let’s explore a couple of these possibilities.
Coursera is an example of a growing number of educational opportunities available on-line. I will use Coursera as the example, but you can Google On-Line Courses Free and find others as well. Several courses are offered for free although you have the opportunity for certification for a fee that varies from $30 – $90 per course. These courses run over the course of an academic semester and have periodic lectures and “out of class” assignments similar to what you would find in a regular classroom. The difference is that you are attending on-line, not in person.
The courses that are offered change over time, but are taught by renowned faculty members from top public and private universities. The content of these courses run the gamut across the sciences, math, humanities, and social sciences. They vary considerably in terms of the background you need to understand the information. However, generally they should be comprehensible by the reasonably educated person. Here are some examples of courses currently being offered and the universities that are producing them:
Find, Fix, and Prevent Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities (University of Maryland)
Climate Change in Four Dimensions (University of California)
Computer Networks (University of Washington)
Social & Economic Networks (Stanford University)
Write and Produce Your Own Music (Berklee College of Music)
Write Like Mozart: An Introduction to Classical Music Composition (National University of Singapore)
The Power of Macroeconomics: Economic Principles in the Real World (University of California)
Global Sustainable Energy (University of Florida)
This list is just a small sampling of courses that are offered. Go on-line to read detailed descriptions of the courses offered and the background you will need. After that, all you will need to do is to sign-up and view the on-line lectures as they are scheduled. The Coursera home page can be found at www.coursera.org.
The Khan Academy
This is a website that offers videos covering topics in math, science, economics & finance, and the humanities. This site originally was developed by Sal Khan to assist his niece in grade school. It has expanded substantially from that. Go on to the site and you will have access to video clips ranging from around 5 – 20 minutes each explaining a specific topic. Need a basic refresher on high school algebra – this is the place. Need to understand some basic economic concepts – Khan will provide what you need. These topics are explained in very simple detail. There are, of course, Khan Academy knock-offs. However, no one does it like Sal Khan. Google or Bing Khan Academy for the link the website.
YouTube is a resource that I have just discovered recently. This website provides access to streaming videos that explain nearly any topic that you would like information on. Do you need a video on how to check the oil level in your car? There are several videos on YouTube for that. Need to understand how to set the clock on your VCR – this is the place? Need to know how to hook up your home sound system – well you get the idea. You can find videos on virtually any topic of interest. However, YouTube goes far beyond these simple topics. Many university professors as well as high school AP teachers’ video tape their lectures and put them on YouTube. Just search on the topic you are interested seeing and all of the available videos will be listed. Click on those of interest and they will stream on your browser. The offerings vary in quality, but I have generally found what I was looking for and gotten the content I needed.
You can spend hours searching this site and viewing videos. It’s both entertaining and educational. The YouTube home page can be found at www.youtube.com
Here’s an idea. If you find a course on Coursera that you want that requires a background you don’t have, go to YouTube or the Khan Academy and view videos to get you up to speed on those required background topics. After that, go back to Coursera and sign-up.
In the world of your youth, if you wanted to learn about something your options were to read a book or attend a class. Sometimes these were at considerable expense and might not be readily available. In the new world, the educational options are nearly endless, free or low-cost, and available 24/7. All you need is the time to learn and explore. Welcome to retirement.
Don is the author of the book “How to Assess & Manage Your Retirement Financial Readiness: 5 Steps to Assess Where You Stand, Plus Some Little-Known Tips for Improving Your Prospects” – available as a Kindle downlo