5 Reasons Seniors Return to School

By Alyssa Ball

The opportunity to retire after spending the majority of your life as a responsibly employed adult may at first feel like new-found freedom. The fact is, however, many seniors discover that their idle hours are more burdensome than they imagined.

With each state offering reduced or free tuition, more seniors are redefining retirement by turning to the halls of academia to fill their downtime. While there are a myriad of reasons for returning to school, seniors who enroll in college courses find the advantages compelling. Here are the top 5 reasons seniors go back to school.

Why Seniors Are Going Back to School

1. Maintain Competitive Skills

You may be at that nebulous point in your life where you're not quite ready to retire but realize that you could become obsolete without keeping your skills updated.

A contributor to Forbes relates one 60-year-old's decision to return to college and complete his bachelor's degree. After earning his associate's degree, Mike continued on to a "successful 30-year tech career." He realized, however, that in order to stay competitive, he needed to upgrade his skills. Utilizing his company's tuition partnership program, Mike completed his bachelor's degree in the very high-demand field of cyber security.

2. Establish Skills for a Second Career

For some, retirement may present financial challenges. While it's a relief to put the obligations of a tiresome career behind you, the reality is that living on a fixed income may be more challenging than you imagined.

Some seniors see taking the chance to return to school as an opportunity to pursue a second career in a completely new occupation that interests them. It offers the fresh start they weren't able to take advantage of before.

3. Retain a Sharp Intellect

The Alzheimer's Association notes a study on seniors who remain intellectually engaged "may avoid dementia by going back to school." The brain is like a muscle that must be used to maintain flexibility and strength.

At the very least, "people who continue to learn in retirement are among the most content and happy," psychiatrist Janet Taylor contends. Embracing new challenges offered in the classroom provides the opportunity to engage with others and stimulate intellectual curiosity.

4. Realize a Dream

The volumes of stories shared by seniors who either chose to forgo higher education or had to drop out to attend to the responsibilities of adulthood could fill several libraries. For those who completed service in the armed forces or to their families, the opportunity to finally realize the dream of completing a college education may finally be attainable as a senior. Some colleges and universities do, in fact, grant credit for life experiences.

5. Embrace New Challenges

College courses for seniors needn't focus on purely academic or career-oriented options. Sometimes, engaging in a cooking class, learning how to play guitar, or finding hidden talents through woodworking is just the outlet you need.

Retirees, Dan Beerman, and his wife, for instance, have benefited from the scope of classes offered through the UNC Asheville Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). They've taken advantage of courses as varied as the study of world cultures to yoga. Taught by retired professionals, the more than 350 available tutorials are more than ample to keep you occupied and intrigued.

In fact, there are 119 OLLI facilities on campuses across the country. Duke University, Colorado State, and Dartmouth are among the campuses offering OLLI courses. They're unique in that their classes are designed solely for students aged 50 and older.

Tips to Help Seniors Get Ready for School

Inquire about Financial Aid

AARP recommends taking advantage of every opportunity if attending college represents the next phase of your life. The number of students in the 50 to 64 age group is continuing to climb. There are scholarships and tax breaks available to future and current students of every age. You could be eligible for the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit of $2,000 or the $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Another savings option is the 529 savings account. You could change the beneficiary to yourself if you have unused funds available from a child who attended college, or you could open a new account in your own name. It's an opportunity to earn interest while creating a tax deduction.

Remember that Universities Embrace Their Senior Population

In a nod of acceptance to the growing numbers of seniors who are embracing their second wind in academia, universities, such as Arizona State in Tempe, have begun construction on dorms to house them. Set for completion in 2020 and already filled, ASU's newest housing facility will accommodate students aged 60 and above. Called a "retirement community with a twist," it's a way to integrate seniors with the community. Whether seniors choose to attend classes, work as docents in the museum, or offer their expertise as guest lecturers, it's a viable way to keep them engaged.

ASU is just one of a growing number of universities that are collaborating with privately owned retirement communities to embrace the unique skill sets seniors offer their communities.

Seek Support

You don't have to tackle school alone. Realizing that maintaining independence is of critical concern to seniors, Caring Senior Service offers a full range of options to meet your needs. Providing transportation, for instance, is one way to allow you the mobility you require to remain engaged with your community.

You may have considered taking a class at the local college or university but thought it not practical because of driving restrictions. We personally tailor our senior home care services to meet your unique circumstances.

Whether you're more comfortable in your own vehicle, or you'd prefer riding in ours, our highly-skilled transportation experts afford you the freedom of mobility. Designed as an affordable option, we charge a flat hourly rate regardless of the day of the week or time of day.

Caring Senior Service also provides other in-home care options that include meal preparation, housekeeping, and companionship. Contact us to discuss our full complement of services specifically designed to support your independent lifestyle.

Tags: Memory, Education