Thursday, May 01, 2014

Retirement and Educational Opportunities

I was following link bait from effbee earlier today, and read an article about retiring near college campuses to communities with close ties to those colleges, including opportunities to audit classes and so on.

In the comments, people talked about wanting, during retirement, to audit for free, or take a BA for free, and complaining about the costs of doing so.  Some states do have laws that allow people over 60 to audit classes for free, just as some states have laws that allow veterans to take classes with free or reduced tuition.  (In my state, the legislature basically said, you have to have veterans, and provide appropriate special services, but you can't charge tuition, and no, the state isn't going to make up the difference.)

The long answer, at least for state schools, is that as state (tax) support for schools has gone down, tuition and fees have gone up.  The voters have long voted for politicians who promise lower taxes in all sorts of ways, and keep voting for those politicians.  They argue that education is a private good, and we state taxpayers shouldn't pay for it, and so we pay less for it (as taxpayers) and students pay more individually.  It's no secret that I don't like any of this.  I'd happily pay a lot more in taxes for well-supported schools (at all levels, from pre-school to graduate programs), universal health care, and better social services of all sorts.  And I vote that way when I can (though finding any politician to vote for who will promise to raise taxes to support schools seems pretty impossible).

So, should seniors get reduced or free tuition or auditing privileges at state schools?

I think no.  And I know not all seniors have had opportunities, and I want them to, but these folks have been voting for a long time, and their collective votes have put into office politicians who've consistently voted to lower taxes and lower the support for public schools (at all levels).  That hurts almost everyone who wants to attend public schools, and it especially hurts younger students who are taking on serious loan debt, even at schools such as my own, which charges under $10K tuition/year. (Yes, there are other fees, and no, that doesn't count housing, books, etc.)

What about you folks?  What do you think?

4 comments:

  1. It's a nice perk that Stanford etc. can offer their alumni (who may remember the school fondly in their wills), but...

    What's the benefit that schools or states (if states were actually going to fund this, which they won't) would get out of allowing seniors to audit classes? The only benefit is votes for politicians. There's no spillovers to productivity, except potentially negative ones if productive older workers decide to retire. There's no decrease in money spent on jails or social services. They'd be much better off offering free tuition to low income kids!

    I can see some arguments behind the Hazelwood Act (and related other state acts) for veterans, though it should have been funded. (And I say, "I can see" because one of my students gave a presentation on it last year and presented pros and cons.) In theory, it does help veterans (or their children) transition back from military into civilian productivity and reduces the needs for other services.

    So from a political economy standpoint, it may make sense-- old people vote. But under no other scenario do the benefits outweigh the costs. There's no public goods being generated and there's potentially negative effects on economic activity and reduced resources for everyone else.

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  2. Note: There may be some benefits for seniors taking *for credit* courses that are focused on re-employment because older workers do have a more difficult time getting work after they've lost a job. But that is a very different thing.

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  3. richard7:22 AM

    In my branch of Bardiac's state system (and this may be true throughout the system), state residents over 60 can *audit* courses for free. This means that they are not supposed to participate in the class, just listen, which closes off phys ed, music performance, studio art and dance, language classes, etc. and, interestingly, any online classes. They get no credit, no degree, and they have to have the permission of the instructor to sit in the class. If they want to participate, then they need to become a "special" student, which has reduced tuition & fees, but is not free. From my point of view this has worked pretty well--I often have a senior auditor in one of my classes, and they seem to enjoy the experience.

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  4. At my university, seniors get reduced tuition, but they enroll last, which means they are only taking seats we haven't "sold" yet. Basically, it's a way to fill seats we wouldn't otherwise be filling.

    I see it as a good thing for two reasons: I get older students who might enrich classes with their life experience. (True, sometimes they're not especially useful, but often they turn out to be great resources.) And second, these might well be students who have negative notions about universities. Actual experience with a university can (sometimes) change their minds.

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