Story by Darl Devault, Contributing Editor

On Aug. 23, seniors 65 and older can begin to take scientists’ advice of adding years of robust emotional and intellectual development to their lives by auditing college classes for free at every public college and university in Oklahoma.
Auditing means enrolling in a college course because a senior is interested in the subject and wants to learn more for no grade and no credit. Called Senior Auditors by the schools, they do not have to be admitted to the school.
Seniors Auditors will attend class regularly, have access to all class materials, but will likely not need to complete homework or take any exams. Seniors may also be encouraged to participate in the class, but this is usually not required.
Some faculty may expect senior’s participation to be minimal to give more time and attention to normally enrolled students.
Seniors need to ask the faculty member about the level of engagement expected while auditing a course, including active class participation in class and completing assignments. Buying the book, course material and listening to the lectures is standard.
In Oklahoma, the procedure for signing up to audit these free classes is Pre-Internet (1994).
A Senior Auditor may enroll as an auditor by meeting the faculty member in the first class with an audit request form. Provided space is available and the faculty member approves by signing the form, the Senior Auditor files the completed audit request form with the Registrar’s office to be officially enrolled.
Initial enrollment in a course as an auditor may be completed only between the first day of class and the last day allowed for late enrollment for credit.
This privilege available for seniors 65 or older has become even more important since scientists are now saying the ability to learn new subjects helps seniors create and sustain their neuroplasticity well into old age.
It was once long believed—by the average person and by brain health experts—that each person had a finite number of brain cells, which decreased over time. Lose enough and neurological damage or diseases result, including dementia.
During the last decade researchers have learned brain health is improved by neurogenesis, the process by which new neurons grow in the brain. This results when seniors take college classes.
By learning new subjects, seniors stimulate new brain cell growth, creating neuro plasticity where existing neurons grow and form different connections with each other.
The brain is responsible for emotional health as well as memory function, remembering old memories as well as creating new ones. Because of this, neurogenesis is key for staying mentally sharp and emotionally balanced.
Fortunately for seniors, free college classes are as close as any Oklahoma institution of higher learning. This includes any Oklahoma public two-year college or four-year university.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education codify the privilege each year in a document. On page 52 of the FY2020-2021 Tuition and Fee Rates for the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education dated September 2020 the privilege of striving for neuroplasticity is spelled out: Auditing of Classes by Senior Citizens. State System institutions are hereby authorized to waive the tuition and fees for auditing of classes for residents of the state of Oklahoma who are sixty-five (65) years of age or older. Such students may be admitted without charge to classes on a space available basis.
The number of seniors taking advantage of this privilege varies greatly. Kellie Dyer, Registrar at the University of Oklahoma, provided the numbers for the last two regular semesters. At the University of Oklahoma in the Fall 2020 semester 10 seniors audited classes and in the Spring of 2021 12 seniors audited classes for free.
Senior Auditors wishing to enroll in a course as an auditor need to get an Audit add/drop form from Enrollment Services in Buchanan Hall, Room 230, get the faculty member’s approval, and return the form to Enrollment Services.
To find out the precise manner and method of auditing classes for free at seniors’ college or university of choice contact their enrollment office. The enabling legislation does not standardize the way they do this across the system. Seniors should contact them well advance of selecting classes they want to take.
Listing of local Oklahoma Public Colleges and Universities
* Langston University, Langston, OKC
* Oklahoma City Community College, Oklahoma City
* Oklahoma State University. Oklahopma City
* Redlands Community College, El Reno
* Rose State College, Midwest City
* University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond
* University of Oklahoma, Norman
* University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City