From Texas Standard:
It seems that every year, we hear how college is becoming more and more expensive.
For the school year that just started in August, full-time students at the University of Texas at El Paso are paying close to $20,000 for a full courseload. At Baylor, they're paying $54,000. But some students have figured out how to go to college for free.
Alice Smith will tell you it isn’t easy – but it's doable. "You can't just walk off the street and say 'I want to take classes.' You've got to be able to get in," she says.
The biggest requirement? Students must be 65 or older to attend.
"All my life I loved going to school so, whenever I had the money, and the time, I'd go take a class," Smith says. "But, you know? When you've got the time, you don't have the money, and vice versa. So, when I turned 65, I remembered that – from one of the schedule books for classes, there was a thing in there for an over-65 waiver. So, I went and looked it up, and sure enough, if you are over 65 in the State of Texas and you can go to the University of Texas six hours free every semester."
In fact, seniors can take classes – for free – at most public colleges in the state. They can be taken for credit, toward a degree.
Connie Cooper is with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. She says over-65 students must maintain a 2.0 average for undergraduate classes and a 3.0 average if they want to pursue a graduate degree. "We just don't get a lot of questions about this program," Cooper says.
Picture this: About 25 million people live in Texas. About 13 percent are 65 or older. This is a state where close to 3 million people could – potentially – go to college for free. But only 2,000 took advantage of the waiver last year.
One reason may be that the program is flying under the radar.
John Wyatt also works for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. He says there’s nothing secret about the program. "We certainly try to make the information available to everybody," he says. "There's information on it on our College for all Texans website."
Prospective students just have to dig for it. The program is called the Texas Education Code 54.365c. Not a friendly name, granted, but admissions officers will know what you're talking about.
Since the program is optional – meaning a school can deny a request for tuition waiver – Alice Smith fears the legislature would simply cut it altogether, if more people took advantage.
"I don't know how this new governor is," she says, "but if the old governor was still in office – he'd be closing that loophole faster than you whistled Dixie!"
But that hasn’t happened yet. And 68-year-old grandmother Alice Smith is proof the benefit gets results. She graduated with a BA in History from UT Austin in 2014.