My Turn: Alaska seniors help support university activities by buying books, paying fees

Posted: Friday, September 09, 2005

The article "University officials rethinking plan to cancel tuition break for the elderly" (Juneau Empire, Aug. 31) excludes some important points.

University officials should not claim it has "lost" $360,000 in tuition revenue. This is a misleading statement. Seniors occupy seats in a classroom only on a space-available basis. Seniors do not displace paying students; they are simply taking a seat that would normally go empty. Senior students pay for their books and all additional fees associated with university courses. Those who utilize the tuition waiver cannot sign up for classes until after it is clear there are empty seats.

Seniors who utilize the tuition waiver under University of Alaska Policy 05.10.08(B) pay fees that support technology, student activities, network infrastructure, parking, transportation, the student-utilized health center and recreational centers used by all students. Tuition is waived, but the fees are not. Seniors are financially supporting the university through fees, which account for as much as 25 percent of a student's bill.

To project the percentage of additional fees paid for by seniors to support student life and the university's network and technology, revenue lost by eliminating the tuition waiver would total approximately $64,000 for the university system for one academic year. This figure represents revenue that the university would lose. The business office at UAF has indicated to the Regents that fees for younger students would be higher if they were not offset by fees paid for by senior students.

Alaskans age 60-plus who attend the University of Alaska still incur costs, whether they are taking one, two, or three classes. The vast majority - some 82 percent - take only one or two classes, which would exclude them from being able to apply for financial aid.

Most seniors live on a limited budget. If faced with having to pay, the majority will opt not to take classes. If seniors don't take classes, the burden to replace lost "fee" revenue falls to others. All students at the University of Alaska should be encouraging seniors to take classes utilizing the tuition waiver - these are Alaskans age 60-plus who pay fees that support student life on UA campuses.

Poll results published in the July 24 edition of the Juneau Empire revealed that 87 percent of respondents feel the university should NOT eliminate the tuition waiver for Alaskans age 60-plus. We agree. We believe President Hamilton and the Board of Regents should encourage seniors to participate in lifelong learning and be role models for younger students as well as members of their own families.

An active senior is a healthier citizen. Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise for older Alaskans. The president and the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska should be encouraging older Alaskans to get up, get out, and get involved.

President Hamilton, you can prevent senior dropouts at the University of Alaska.

• Ann Secrest is director of communications for the AARP Alaska state office.

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