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Why You Might Spend Your Retirement at a University

Jan 14, 2020 by Deidre Woollard
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Some college campuses are finding a surprising way to monetize their land and facilities, looking not just to the young people who will attend classes but to senior citizens looking for an inspiring place to retire.

This isn't exactly a new trend. Members of Duke University envisioned The Forest at Duke, a retirement community, way back in the 1980s, and many senior housing providers have established partnerships with local universities.

However, as baby boomers get older, more university-based retirement communities (UBRCs) are popping up. For example, at Arizona State University, the Mirabella community set to open this year will appeal to residents who are interested in hitting the books as they age by offering access to classes, campus events, and more.

Benefits of UBRCs for residents

One of the perks of living on a college campus for some seniors is the chance to take as many classes as they want. This is part of a societal shift about the nature of education that has occurred over the last few decades. In the past, education was considered complete once a person finished their college or graduate degree in their 20s. While certain professions, including real estate, have continuing education requirements, most people generally didn't go back to school in later years.

Over the past several decades, the rise of extension schools at major universities, online education options, and needs or desires for new careers have all combined to make education less of a phase in life and more of a permanent way of life. Some people go back to school after 50 to prepare for a late-life career, but many simply enjoy learning new things.

The idea of attending classes alongside traditional university students also appeals to boomers who see themselves as engaged and vibrant members of society with plenty left to contribute. The prospect of having relatives living near or on a college campus may also incentivize more family members to visit. College towns are often great places to live and invest in with many restaurants, shops, and cultural opportunities.

Benefits of UBRCs for universities

For smaller private colleges, adding senior housing can help them stay open. In 2014, Lasell College in Newton, Massachusetts, opened Lasell Village, a partnership with a Florida senior living community. The collaboration has helped enable the school to invest in its infrastructure and grow its endowment.

At Longview, a retirement community in Ithaca, New York, residents can attend classes at Ithaca College or attend college-level classes at an Ithaca College classroom at Longview. Work-study students and volunteers from Ithaca College in a variety of disciplines work at Longview planning activities side by side with both residents and staff.

UBRCs can help universities monetize land that otherwise would remain unbuilt. By partnering with senior housing developers, universities may not have to worry about subsidizing construction and can instead receive the benefits of a steady income stream that will likely increase over time. Also, residents of these communities may develop an attachment to the university, which could also lead to them becoming donors down the road.

Drawbacks of UBRCs

The biggest drawback of UBRCs might be the price. These communities can be more expensive than traditional retirement options. There is also some discussion about what constitutes a true UBRC. Some communities may brand themselves with a university affiliation but not offer the option for residents to take a full complement of college-level classes. It's important to do your homework if the prospect of continuing education is a major selling feature for you in choosing this option.

Another consideration is whether the UBRC of your choice has enough facilities to support your needs as you age. Some communities have memory-care wings and skilled nursing services, but not all of them do.

A niche or a vision for the future?

One of the biggest questions of the next few years is around how the aging of America will shift the level of senior care in the country. Many developers have spent billions of dollars on new communities, anticipating that Americans would move into senior housing en masse. That has led to a glut where supply has outpaced demand for the last several years.

Part of this is due to the fact that seniors are choosing to stay in their homes, but that may shift as people age. While many seniors are not interested in the traditional amenities of retirement communities such as endless rounds of golf, UBRCs offer the chance to turn back time a little and become students again. That may be good for both residents and developers.

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