What is an Elder College?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 December 2018
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An elder college is a type of education offered to adults usually 50 and older, who wish to continue to learn. Such a college may also be called a senior citizen college. Some traditional colleges offer senior citizens reduced tuition or no tuition and allow them to audit classes of their choosing.

The more organized elder college may exist within a traditional college or be a separate entity. Such a college may occasionally draw on the expertise of professionals, but the seniors may also conduct lessons when they have expertise in a particular area. Usually an elder college has an organizing body made up of its students and teachers, and all participating may vote on what type of curriculum they would most like to have.

Sometimes an elder college is organized around a vibrant senior center. Alternately a senior center may partner with a local community college to expand the choices of classes. Many community colleges offer free lectures on a variety of topics that senior citizens may wish to attend. Senior centers may organize transportation to these lectures to help those who cannot drive or who have mobility issues.


Usually an elder college is not an accredited organization, though it may pair with an accredited college. This means people attending classes will not get a degree. Those who wish to attend the classes and receive college credits must usually register and take courses in the same manner as any other student, which means paying greater fees. There are some scholarships available to people of any age who have not previously attended college, and there are also scholarships available specifically to senior citizens.

The elder college with teachers from the community of elders may not always offer the same quality of education as is offered at a community college or four year university. Yet sometimes the quality is higher and more specific to people’s interests. For example, a senior citizen who teaches a class on the geographical highlights of Germany may be better equipped to teach the course if she has spent a life living in or traveling through Germany. Often a comfort level exists in peer teaching that does not exist in the traditional college setting.

As well, since the community of elders usually directs curriculum, classes are more likely to be of interest to people participating in an elder college. It may be of not interest whatsoever to take a beginning college English course, but very interesting to study fiction that best relates to life as a senior citizen.

The central purpose of the elder college is not to follow any particular curriculum, but instead to promote lifelong learning. Sometimes those who have retired, feel that they are stranded from their former busy lives. Opportunities for socialization are less frequent, and such a position can be both stagnant and depressing. The elder college provides socialization opportunities and a recognition that people of any age can grow, change, develop and learn.



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