State law lets senior citizens attend classes free of charge

Jameson Pitts

A little-known Texas law allows students 65 or older to take up to six hours of undergraduate or graduate courses at Texas public universities for free if they request the exemption.

Lois Stahlke, finance manager in the UT Office of Accounting who handles tuition billing, said an average of 15 students each year participate in the program at UT, which the University offers voluntarily. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents the university from identifying participants.

“It was initiated just as an opportunity to the community,” Stahlke said.

Stahlke said eligible students can earn a degree free of charge, provided they only take six hours a semester and maintain a 2.0 GPA. Students must be admitted to the University, but admissions requirements are less stringent if a student does not intend to seek a degree.

The only action a student must take to prevent charges for their courses is present proof of their age to Students Account Receivable, but some might be unaware of the exemption.

“The exemption is granted at the request of the student,” Stahlke said. “We don’t look for students who meet the eligibility requirements.” 

According to the most recent University report, there were 11 undergraduate students and 10 graduate students 65 or older in 2014, which is six more than the average number of students who actually use the exemption.

Joey Williams, interim communications director in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said 15 undergraduate students over the age of 65 applied to UT for the fall of 2015, the oldest of which was 75 at the time of applying. Most of these applicants attended UT previously.

“It’s really about increasing access to the University,” Williams said. 

Kyle Clark, associate director of New Student Services, said he encouraged students of any age to attend new student orientation programs.

“My approach would be ‘how do I get a new student connected on campus?’” Clark said. “I would try not to start with ‘how do I get a 70 year old connected to campus?’”

Clark said programs such as the University Extension offer flexible options for UT coursework to different types of learners.

A list of tuition exemptions is available in the general information catalog, under exemptions and waivers, according to Stahlke. Programs are available for veterans and their families, foster children, citizens of certain countries and others.