On May 21, the Senate approved a bill that would allow seniors to audit university and community college classes for free. There are some conditions: There must be space in the class, the instructor must give approval and the student must attend part time.
But read the fine print: Must be 65 or older.
On May 21, the Senate approved a bill that would allow seniors to audit university and community college classes for free. There are some conditions: There must be space in the class, the instructor must give approval and the student must attend part time—only eight credits per term. The student is also responsible for any extra fees in the class, such as lab fees, books and supplies.
This bill passed unanimously in the House, and was met with only one opponent in the Senate, Democratic Sen. Ginny Burdick, who stated that this bill was purely age discrimination and not appropriately based on a need.
Are you furious? Or at least scratching your head?
One argument given by a college student was that, at 65, most people are finishing out their careers, becoming retirees. What do they need with a college degree? This is a generalized statement, of course, as everyone deserves and has the right to pursue an education, regardless of age, sex, race, religion or orientation. However, there is a good underlying point here.
The majority of students in that age range are coming to the end of their careers, and pursue college courses for a hobby or simply because they have a zest for learning. Great reasons, but do they justify getting free money to do so? This is giving the short end of the stick to students who are beginning their careers and need these degrees to flourish.
The biggest issue here, though, is simply age discrimination. For example, insert another demographic in this bill: free college for Christians, free college for women or free college for international students. It would be a far clearer-cut case of discrimination at that point, and the opposition would be much stronger. This bill singles out a group of people and gives them aid not because of a need, but because of their age.
It is a very nice idea to honor and want to help the elderly pursue their interests. The mental image of a senior with a passion to learn, even in their twilight years, is inspiring. However, just awarding a single group of people a free pass is not right, not fair and doesn’t fix anything that is wrong with our educational system.
Perhaps instead of giving out free passes to college based on age, the government could be helping those with a financial need. So many of us struggle to pay for our own education and are overlooked. As a student who can’t qualify for residency or Pell Grants (lacking the wonderful little tax breaks called children), I don’t have many options in the way of aid. And I’m not alone! There is a plethora of people in the state of Oregon who work incredibly hard to attend school even part time, or can’t afford to go at all.
With even more tuition increases on the horizon, the state of Oregon needs to do more than wave a distracting and discriminatory flag in the faces of college students. Financial help needs to be doled out to those who truly require it.