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Finance A Nontraditional Education

Older Students Consider Many Financial Aid Options

Laura Bobendrier, Staff Writer
April 9, 2001, 11:14 a.m. EDT


The budget's looking slim.

Not only are your kids growing more and more expensive to feed and clothe, but they're nearing college age. And you, too, want to pursue higher education. How can you possibly finance all of this without draining your savings?

In deciding to return to school, perhaps financial aid isn't a top consideration for most adults. But after checking into the price of education, they quickly become aware that financing an education will take some planning.

The number of nontraditional students (those generally classified as over age 25 who haven't taken college or university classes in awhile -- if ever) continues to rise across the nation. According to a November 1999 study from the National Center for Education Statistics, 46 percent of adults were engaged in some type of adult education in the 12 months before the survey. This could include any type of continuing education -- certificate programs, distance education, or adults returning to college part or full time.

Returning students often assume that financial aid is next to impossible to secure for themselves, but, in truth, many avenues of financing an education are the same for students of any age.

Why Is The FAFSA Important?

Federal Aid

Nontraditional students have to file a FAFSA form, just like 18-year-old students. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form that almost every post-secondary institution requires students to fill out. It makes students eligible for federal aid, and individual schools often use the information from the FAFSA to determine the amount of aid they might offer.

Check With Your Employer

Before searching elsewhere, talk to your employer about possible tuition reimbursement programs or scholarships. Even if these aren't available, keep pushing, said Laura DiFoire on freschinfo.com, a scholarship-search Web site. Try wrangling financial aid by exchanging another benefit that your employer provides. Emphasize how much educational benefits will increase your value as an employee.


Though usually open to people of any age, nontraditional students might face a few problems when it comes to scholarships. Most require applicants to be full-time students attending a four-year college, not part-time students at two-year colleges, which includes a bulk of the nontraditional student population. And many scholarship committees have a bias toward traditional high-school seniors -- committee members just aren't sure how to compare life experience with a high GPA.

But don't let this stop you -- lots of scholarship organizations are beginning to see the steady increase in adult students, and they're starting to create scholarships specifically for them, DiFoire said.

Also, check with any organizations to which you belong -- your church, labor union or community organization may offer scholarships and, as a member, you might get first dibs.

Government Options

Pell Grants may be available to a distance-education student, according to Key Education Resources. Eligibility is limited to degree candidates, so you should contact the financial aid office of your college or university for more information.

Ask your city, county or state government about retraining programs, DiFoire said, especially if you've recently been laid off. These programs are generally designed only to update your skills in certificate or two-year programs, but they're usually flexible -- you might be able to use them to achieve a bachelor's degree.

Veterans' and military benefits generally have provisions for financial aid. Check with your local administration office for more details.

Retirees also have a great advantage: Most community colleges and many state colleges and universities offer free tuition to residents over 60, DiFoire said.

Tax Credits

The IRS provides a couple of options for federal income tax credits for education. They require that you pay for your education, and then get reimbursed on your taxes if for approved educational expenses.

The Hope Scholarship is income-based and worth up to $1,500. You can use this scholarship only for two years.

The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit is also income-based, but it is worth up to $2,000. There is no limit to the number of years that this can be used.


This is an obvious consideration for most students. However, some are more affordable than others.

Consider secured loans against existing savings or other assets, DiFoire said. These are available from some banks and most credit unions, and they have a very low overall interest and very little risk. However, with a secured loan, you have to make payments while you're in school.

Another possibility is a home equity loan. Interest paid on these types of loans may be tax deductible, but the risk factor heightens substantially, DiFoire said. Talk to your bank about these and other loan options.

Copyright 2001 by Channel 2000. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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