Senior Waiver Program allows learning without splurging


Photo courtesy of Rachel Shubin

Mia Wise, Staff Writer

Mason’s senior citizen waiver program provides opportunities for senior citizens to get back in the classroom and learn about evolving areas of study and engage with the campus community.

Under the terms of the Senior Citizen Higher Education Act of 1974, the program allows Virginia residents over the age of 60 to enroll in up to three audited courses a semester. According to the university registrar’s website, tuition for courses taken for credit, is waived only if citizens have a taxable income not exceeding $15,000 for Virginia income tax purposes for the year preceding the year in which enrollment is sought. While those enrolled in the program have the option of receiving academic credit for the classes they take, most choose otherwise. The program does not require individuals to choose a major or minor.

There are plenty of benefits to continuing one’s educational pursuits after retirement, according to a recent piece by U.S. News and World Report. These include learning about a subject of interest, keeping one’s mind sharp and staying socially engaged. Senior citizens open “new channels of interaction” through attending classes, benefiting from in-class discussions and time with young people.

Jack and Eugenie Helitzer are a couple who are a part of the senior citizen waiver program and have taken numerous classes together. Currently registered in multiple art history courses, the Helitzers know learning is important — no matter the age of the student.

“The reward we get from our courses is a greater understanding of art and history,” Mr. Helitzer said. “As auditors, we do not have to pay tuition or fees. Our only expenses are for textbooks, most of which we buy but some of which we rent. We do all the reading, but we don’t have to take any exams or submit any papers. All we have to do is learn something new.”

This semester the Helitzers’ are taking “Ancient Pompeii: A Window on Ancient Roman Art and Society,” “Survey of Latin American Art” and “Art of Southeast Asia.”

The Helitzers are by no means new to college life. They both studied at Cornell, where they met. Mr. Helitzer graduated two years before Mrs. Helitzer and continued on to Harvard for law school. The couple married during Mr. Helitzer’s second year at Harvard and moved to New York City after he graduated.

Mr. Helitzer worked as a legal advisor for MetLife and Mrs. Helitzer worked as a teacher. When they retired, the couple moved to Virginia to be closer to family.

Though the Helitzers both received excellent educations, they decided to continue learning after retirement by studying something new: art history.

“Obviously, from our background, we do not need to obtain another degree, since we no longer work or need a career,” Mrs. Helitzer said. “We did not have to pick a major. Since neither of us had to work, we decided to concentrate our studies on a subject we both loved,  art history. As it turned out, George Mason has an excellent art history faculty.”

The Helitzers began to audit classes at Mason about six years ago. “We basically have taken more art history courses than would be required if we were working towards a degree,” Mr. Helitzer said. “We also ‘minored’ in regular history, and we have also taken some other interesting courses.”

While most senior citizens would probably rather not spend their time in a classroom again, those enrolled in the program love having the opportunity to pursue their interests.

According to the registrar website, individuals interested in enrolling in the waiver program have to complete an application, submit their transcripts from any prior colleges and receive an offer of admission before they can register for classes. Admission into the program is competitive and not guaranteed. There is a Senior Citizen Application Guide on the website to help interested applicants apply for the program. The deadline to apply for the summer term is May 1 and August 24 for the fall semester.

Although the Helitzers are students here just like everyone else, they are able to experience a more leisurely side of education.

“Our favorite part of studying here, besides learning a lot, is interacting with the students and professors,” Mrs. Helitzer said. “One of our daughters teaches here and one of our grandchildren is currently an undergraduate student at GMU. We enjoy having lunch here at Southside. The meals are quite good.”