As fall rolls around each year, a new class of high school seniors anxiously prepares for battle; submitting applications, revising essays and applying for scholarships gearing up to face the first daunting behemoth of adulthood: college. And while parents and grandparents have been drilling the necessity of attending college into the heads of students from a young age, college was not the same financial monster when they went as it is now.
Financial news website GoBankingRates conducted a study regarding the average cost of attending a four-year university adjusted to the value of money in 2020, with results to the chagrin of younger generations. Taking into account average tuition, room and board and other student expenses for all four years, baby boomers paid an average of $39,780, millennials were charged approximately $70,000, while Generation Z students are expected to cough up an astounding standard of $90,875 to earn a degree. In other words, boomers were going up against bunny rabbits while members of Gen Z are tasked with taking down Goliath.
While many young students are facing the highest college prices of all time, according to Forbes, many colleges offer copious amounts of financial aid to senior citizens who want to update and augment their college degrees or are attending college for the first time. Twenty-two states in the U.S. offer free college to senior citizens at any state or public university, and many additional states offer drastically reduced prices.
Of course, there are different requirements varying from state to state, including the age a person must be to qualify to apply to these programs. Continuing education students must also undergo the same application process as all other students to be allowed acceptance, so they are not placed at an advantage over other applicants purely because of age. To the benefit of younger applicants, schools offering these programs generally wait until the second week of classes before admitting senior citizens to ensure there is enough space available. Therefore, younger students are prioritized because their enrollment determines the number of continuing education students the schools are able to accept.
New Mexico is not one of the states offering free college to senior citizens, but it does offer reduced tuition for seniors interested in attending school. At the University of New Mexico, people age 65 and older have the opportunity to pay only $5 per credit hour, but their ability to take certain courses is contingent on whether class space is available, and they are limited to taking only 10 credit hours at a time.
In comparison, all other students attending UNM with resident tuition pay $82 per credit hour, and those paying out-of-state tuition pay $228 per credit hour.
According to a representative for continuing education at UNM who asked not to be identified by name, “a lot of students are interested and take advantage” of the program because they either want to remain sharp in the competitive workplace, need something to occupy their time in retirement, or simply have a love for lifelong learning.
Although this program is a win for senior citizens looking to further their education, it is not as popular with the rest of the student body. Alannah Trujillo, a sophomore at the University of New Mexico, disagrees with the program, saying “younger students haven’t or are just starting to financially establish [themselves], yet [they are] expected to pay tremendous amounts more than those who have had entire lifetimes to build steady careers and incomes.”
While current college attendees and students planning on attending college within the next few years may be angry they have not been granted the same financial aid as senior citizens, it can also be argued that the lower cost incentive for older students does not pose a significant threat to younger students in the long run. Younger students’ career possibilities and opportunities may not be hindered by senior students because they are past retirement age and will not be trying to enter the job market alongside the rest of their graduating class.
Although opinions may differ over how the state regulates tuition rates for senior citizens, the Governor’s Office has set its sights on the possibility of “free college” for all students in the upcoming legislative session. With already sizable student loan debts consistently on the rise, free and reduced tuition for all people despite age would grant opportunity to all students seeking higher education.