How to take college courses without spending a lot of money

Q: I would like to take an American history class just for the knowledge without pursuing a degree. Do any local colleges allow senior citizens to audit a class for free or reduced rate?

Phil Johnson, of O’Fallon

A: If you don’t mind the drive, it appears Southern Illinois University Edwardsville might be your smartest choice for keeping your mind sharp and your wallet happy.

For just $35 each, you can sit in on a wide variety of courses from accounting to zoology, depending on what is offered during any given semester. (There is a chance you could qualify for totally free tuition, but more on that in a minute.) At SIUE, it’s called Educard, and it allows anyone 16 to 116 to take classes of personal interest simply to satisfy their curiosity or boost their professional growth on the cheap.

You’re allowed to take up to three courses per term. You even can borrow textbooks, as available, at no charge through the school’s Textbook Service and then return them at the end of the term. Enrolling also entitles you to a courtesy card to use the Lovejoy Library. Parking passes can be purchased that will allow you to use any of the designated “red” student parking lots.

As you probably could guess, you will receive no grade or credit, and no record of your attendance will be kept. There are some exceptions, including classes with extensive prerequisites and those that are fully enrolled. For a complete list of classes available for the coming spring term, go to www.siue.edu/educationaloutreach/educard/index.shtml or call 650-3210.

Now, there is a state law that allows senior citizens to enroll at public (not private) colleges and universities without paying tuition. It’s called the Senior Citizen Courses Act (110 ILCS 990). It covers Southern Illinois University and all community colleges that fall under the Public Community College Act, including Southwestern Illinois College.

According to the law, qualifying institutions must allow seniors 65 and over to enroll in regularly scheduled credit courses (except those designed specifically for seniors) without being charged tuition, provided that classroom space exists and tuition-paying students make up at least the minimum number required for the course to be offered.

However, to qualify, seniors must have incomes below certain guidelines — currently $28,604 for a one-person household, $37,954 for two, and $47,301 for three, according to SWIC spokesperson Jim Haverstick. Seniors must pay any additional fees. If you think you qualify, you should call the school’s admissions or financial aid department for complete details.

Lindenwood University in Belleville offers seniors a 50 percent tuition discount, but that still would leave a $690 bill for a three-hour course. The school also limits you to four courses (12 hours) lifetime if you are not pursuing a specified degree. Auditing classes at McKendree University in Lebanon is also half the normal tuition rate, according to the school’s latest admissions booklet.

At SWIC, those 60 and over receive a $5-per-hour cut in tuition. So far this year, six people also have taken advantage of the Senior Citizen Courses Act for free tuition, Haverstick said.

Today’s trivia

Who was president of the National Geographic Society when its magazine introduced pictures?

Answer to Sunday’s trivia: Begun in 1940 by professional bicycle racer Fred “Pop” Kugler in 1940, the Tour of Somerville (N.J.) now draws the world’s top cyclists for a festival that has become known as the Kentucky Derby of Bicycle Racing. Kugler’s son, Furman, won the first two races, and after he was killed in World War II, the senior men’s race was renamed the Kugler-Anderson Memorial to honor him and Carl Anderson, who won in 1942 before dying in the war. Now, it’s a three-day festival for both pro and amateur cyclists. For information, see tourofsomerville.org.

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