Why boomers are retiring to college

Ray and Ann Goldwire lived and worked in the college town of Toledo, Ohio, before they retired to a resort-style retirement community. There they expected to enjoy a life of leisure. Instead, they quickly grew weary of the activities that absorbed most of the retirees’ days. “It was golf, golf, golf, bridge,” Ann Goldwire said. “Ray and I didn’t get along real well there.”

In retirement, it’s not uncommon for older Americans to find themselves isolated from their communities.

“We’ve built a lot of really beautiful retirement communities in this country, but unfortunately they are in many ways completely separated from the rest of society,” said Andrew Carle, an expert in senior housing and a professor at George Mason University. “A bird in a gilded cage is still a bird in a cage.”

So the Goldwires moved once again, this time to Gainesville, Fla., the home of University of Florida. Nearly 50 years after he graduated with a degree in business, Ray Goldwire now lives next door to his alma mater. Instead of a dorm, his new home is Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, a university-based retirement community, which offers him all the perks of a college campus, minus the term papers and final exams.

In 2006, Carle, who founded George Mason University’s program in senior housing administration, coined the term “university-based retirement communities” — or UBRC’s for short — to describe retirement communities that have a formal or informal relationship to a nearby university, and as a result, offer their residents academic benefits that others cannot.

Like the Goldwires, many older Americans are trading the leisure circuit for the college campus in retirement. By moving close to a university, Carle said, seniors are primed to get what studies show they want: “They want active, they want intellectually stimulating, and they want intergenerational retirement environments.”

Ray Goldwire uses a smoker to gain access to his bee hives at his retirement community in Gainesville, Fla. Video still by Steve Mort/PBS NewsHour

Ray Goldwire uses a smoker to gain access to his bee hives at his retirement community in Gainesville, Fla. Video still by Steve Mort/PBS NewsHour

Oak Hammock offers many opportunities to continue learning, from auditing college courses to attending lectures and classes held at the retirement center. There is a film society, fitness classes, two pools, a choir and a chamber music ensemble. Ray Goldwire even started a bee-keeping program.

He isn’t looking for some magical fountain of youth, but he hopes that living near a university will help him to age better than his parents. “My mother lived to 102, and I don’t want to stick around and live in a nursing home like she did. It’s up to me to sort of take care of myself,” he said.

Just as no two university campuses are identical, no two UBRCs are the same either. And some may be better managed than others to fulfill residents’ expectations. Andrew Carle says there are steps that can be taken to achieve a win-win-win opportunity for the university, the retirement community and the retirees.

His five criteria for creating a successful UBRC are as follows:

  • Programming: Formalized programming between the university and the retirement community is critical to create intergenerational diversity.
  • Proximity: The UBRC has to be within a mile or so of the campus or you won’t likely feel like you’re on the campus. And both 20-year-old college students and 80-year-old retirees are commonly without cars.
  • Senior housing and health services: The retirement community has to have a full continuum of care and senior housing services, including independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and dementia care.
  • Alumni Base: At least 10 percent of residents at the retirement community should be alums, former faculty member or former employee of the university in order to bring the culture and spirit of the university into the retirement community.
  • Sound financial planning: The university should not operate the retirement community — for legal, financial, and practical reasons — however there should be some kind of financial relationship that ties the two together, because this gives both an incentive to help each other succeed and thrive.

Of the approximately 70 retirement communities in the U.S. that tout their ties to nearby universities, Carle says only about a dozen meet three or more of his ideal criteria.

While universities stand to gain new revenue streams by supporting these types of retirement communities, Carle says they serve the surrounding region too. “If by 2030, one fifth of the community is over the age of 65,” Carle said, “then you have an obligation to be paying attention to a fifth of your population.”

How do university-based retirement communities shape up to Andrew Carle’s model for success? Here are some of the communities that meet many of his criteria.

The Forest at Duke | Duke University, Durham, N.C.

Photo by Chris Hildreth/Duke University

Photo by Chris Hildreth/Duke University

Current number of residents: 370
Average age of resident: ~84
Average age of entry: 77

Proximity to campus: Two miles. Residents rarely walk to and from the Duke University campus, but the retirement community operates a bus that runs frequently.

Senior housing and health services: Full continuum of care. The retirement community has independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, and other options as residents’ age and health requires. On-site there are primary care, dental and pharmacy services, a variety of rehab therapies and memory support.

Programming: The Forest at Duke partners with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to provide adult continuing education courses held on the Duke campus as well as at the retirement center. Duke does not allow residents or local retirees to audit classes for free.

Alumni Base: Approximately 30 percent have a direct tie to Duke.

Financial arrangement: The Forest at Duke pays a license fee to use the university’s trademarked name. Duke does not own, operate or manage any part of the retirement community. However, the retirement community contracts with the university to provide a medical director and the oversight with their health center.

While the university made no financial investments to help build The Duke at Forest, the project was strongly supported through consulting support, especially by the Duke Center for Aging.

Kendal at Hanover | Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.

Photo by Eli Burakian/Dartmouth College

Photo by Eli Burakian/Dartmouth College

Current number of residents: ~400
Average age of resident: 84-85
Average age of entry: 79

Proximity to campus: From Kendal at Hanover to the location of continuing education classes is 1.7 miles walking or a seven-minute drive. The retirement community operates a shuttle bus for more popular events or classes.

Senior housing and health services: Kendal at Hanover is a continuing care retirement community with four different types of living options, independent apartments, assisted living and memory support for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and skilled nursing. Through the on-site clinic, residents can get routine physicals, immunizations and health screenings. Residents can also receive other services on-site by referral, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, social service, and dietary counseling.

Programming: Residents take advantage of Dartmouth College’s Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth (ILEAD), a continuing education program started in 1990 for local retirees and alumni. More than half of Kendal at Hanover residents are members of ILEAD. Classes are offered in three “semesters.” In Spring 2014, there were 38 full-length courses and 18 mini-courses offered, lasting two to eight weeks. Kendal has more than 100 additional groups and committees that residents can join in order to explore their interests.

Alumni Base: About one in four residents are Dartmouth alumni, former faculty or staff.

Financial arrangement: Dartmouth College did not lease or buy land for Kendal at Hanover, nor did it provide any investment funds or loans for the construction of the retirement community.

The retirement community contracts with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to host an on-site clinic exclusively serving residents. Dartmouth medical school students from the Geisel School of Medicine can do a rotation at that clinic as part of their education.

Holy Cross Village at Notre Dame | Holy Cross College, Notre Dame, Ind.

Photo by Glenn Simmons/Flickr

Photo by Glenn Simmons/Flickr

Current number of residents: 246
Average age of resident: 82
Average age of entry: 83

Proximity to campus: Only 1,000 feet separate the main building of the retirement community and the university, and the physical proximity makes it very easy for residents to interact with young college students, as well as staff and faculty.

Programming: Residents receive library cards and college identification badges for Holy Cross College that give them access to the library, fitness center and athletic events. The retirement community provides transportation to events on the University of Notre Dame campus every month. Residents can also purchase tickets to sporting events such as the popular football and women’s basketball games.

Residents can audit courses offered by Holy Cross College and St. Mary’s College, and participate in quarterly lecture series. Holy Cross College hosts an art festival, displaying student artwork at the retirement community and student artists visit to discuss their work. Retirees also regularly welcome international students for dinner several times a year.

In addition, residents who are former college professors also sit on jury panels and grade student presentations at Holy Cross College.

Senior housing and health services: Holy Cross Village has independent living options, including free-standing villas, duplexes and apartment units. Most residents live in apartments. Assisted living and skilled nursing options are also available. Some residents have private health care assistance, which they pay for in order to remain in their independent living quarters. The retirement community allows for this as long as the residents’ health and the safety of others allows.

Alumni Base: Thirty percent are retired faculty and alumni from Holy Cross College, St. Mary’s College or University of Notre Dame. While the schools were all started by religious priests and brothers connected to the Catholic Church, residents come from all different backgrounds. Many of the residents are older religious brothers.

Financial arrangement: The retirement community is owned and sponsored by Brothers of Holy Cross, a Catholic society of lay religious men, who also own and operate the buildings and land for Holy Cross College. While Holy Cross Village is a separate not-for-profit organization, the same religious order manages the university and the retirement community. Several members of its board of directors work for one of the three college administrations. The university and retirement community share contracts for security since they can be easily executed and operated together.

Vi at Palo Alto | Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.

Photo by Jill Clardy/Flickr

Photo by Jill Clardy/Flickr

Current number of residents: 631
Average age of resident: 84
Average age of entry: ~70-75 years

Proximity to campus: Less than a mile. The free university shuttle system has two stops on the retirement community campus.

Programming: Residents organize a weekly lecture series and connect with contacts at the university, such as professors, researchers and physicians, who come to discuss topics nominated by the residents themselves. A few courses, which last several weeks, are taught by Stanford University professors. In addition, residents can pay to attend sporting events and performances on campus. Residents who want to audit classes or participate in continuing education programs must pay tuition.

Senior housing and health services: As a CCRC, residents have access to short- and long-term care, including assisted living, memory support and skilled nursing care. Its care center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If residents must go to Stanford Hospital for any reason, Vi at Palo Alto has developed partnerships with the hospital in order to provide more one-on-one attention for residents.

Alumni Base: Vi at Palo Alto’s executive director Steve Brudnick estimates that 25 percent of residents have some connection to Stanford, either as alumni or as former faculty or staff. However, Vi doesn’t officially ask its residents for a connection during the application process.

Financial arrangement: Vi at Palo Alto has little affiliation with Stanford University. The retirement community is located on land that has been leased for 75 years from Stanford, but it is independently operated. The retirement community pays professors to come and teach classes to residents.

Lasell Village | Lasell College, Newton, Mass

Photo by Lasell College/Flickr

Photo by Lasell College/Flickr

Current number of residents: 210
Average age of resident: ~82
Average age of entry: 85

Proximity to campus: The retirement community is located across the street from the college campus. Lasell Village drives residents to parts of campus as needed.

Programming: Unlike other UBRCs, continuing education opportunities at Lasell Village are not optional. It is mandatory that all residents complete a minimum of 450 hours of learning and fitness activity each calendar year. These hours of learning can take place inside and outside the classroom. Residents have an academic dean who helps oversee all their educational programs, on campus and at the retirement community. Residents can enroll in college level courses free of charge and they are expected to be fully participating members of the class. In addition to college courses, there are a number of classes hosted at the retirement community. There are also formal programs for residents to mentor students, participate in joint volunteer activities or even complete independent research.

Senior housing and health services: Lasell Village is a continuing care retirement community and offers short-term and long-term care. Residents who are able to live independently live in apartment homes. Each of the 16 buildings at the retirement community has a classroom, studio, library or fitness facility. Residents can get health services at the on-site wellness center. When needed, residents have access to rehab, stroke recovery, wound care, pain management, short-term respite care, assisted living, skilled nursing and end-of-life care.

Alumni Base: Very few of the residents at Lasell Village have any formal connection to the college. When the retirement community was established, its mission was not necessarily to serve only alumni.

Financial arrangement: The retirement community and the college are deeply intertwined. The retirement community is actually zoned as an educational institution. Though not the original plan, the college currently manages the operation of Lasell Village. The retirement community pays the college to lease the land. The two share contracts for security, IT services and front desk operations.

Kendal at Oberlin | Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio

Photo by Flickr user abbyladybug

Photo by Flickr user abbyladybug

Current number of residents: 325
Average age of resident: 83
Average age of entry: 73

Proximity to campus: Three blocks from the retirement community to the heart of the Oberlin College campus. Because the terrain is very flat, it is very easy for residents to walk or bike, even during the winter. Kendal also offers transportation to the campus for those who need it.

Programming: Through a local community college-sponsored Academy for Lifelong Learning, also affiliated with Oberlin College, residents can take not-for-credit courses taught by current and retired faculty. Some of the instructors are Kendal residents, and some classes are hosted at the retirement community every semester. On campus, residents can audit, free of charge, by just asking the professor if they can join.

Faculty, students and staff go to Kendal at Oberlin to host activities, such as faculty lectures and individual and group performances by the internationally recognized Conservatory of Music at Oberlin. Many students work at the retirement community for federal work-study in order to learn about aging.

Kendal at Oberlin residents are also able to use the college library, athletic facilities and attend some of the 1,200 events held on the campus, most of which are free or low cost. Some residents even teach, conduct research or offer consulting services to the college. Some serve as mentors to Oberlin freshmen, part of a course called Ars Moriendi.

Senior housing and health services: Residents have the option of living in cottages and apartments located on Kendal at Oberlin’s 107 acres. In addition, there are exercise and recreational facilities, craft areas, garden plots and a fitness center with a swimming pool and tennis courts.

Kendal at Oberlin is an accredited continuing care retirement community. Residents have access to assisted living, skilled nursing and short-term rehabilitation services.

Alumni Base: Approximately 37 percent of residents have a former tie to Oberlin College; most of the group is alumni.

Financial arrangement: Oberlin College and Kendal at Oberlin have a very special relationship, but it is not dependent on any legal or financial tie. Though the college assisted the retirement community to acquire property, the land is owned by Kendal at Oberlin. There is no fee arrangement or contract to use the name of the college or operate any part of Kendal at Oberlin.

Oak Hammock at the University of Florida | University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.

Photo by University of Florida

Photo by University of Florida

Current number of residents: 385 in independent living units
Average age of resident: 82
Average age of entry: 76 – 78 years old

Proximity to campus: One mile as the crow flies to the University of Florida campus. But in reality, it is about three to four miles away, an eight to 10 minute drive. This means most residents do not get to campus, unless they drive or take a shuttle provided by Oak Hammock.

Programming: Oak Hammock is host to its own Institute for Learning in Retirement, offering classes for people over the age of 55. With over 550 students, half of whom come from Oak Hammock and the rest from the Gainesville area, Institute members can take classes at Oak Hammock, taught by current and retired professors from the University of Florida, as well as retired faculty from other universities who live at the retirement community.

By state law, seniors, age 60 or older who are residents of Florida, can audit classes at public universities for free. Residents at Oak Hammock can audit college courses at University of Florida. Residents also go to campus to attend football and basketball games, performances, and for other campus services.

Some students intern at Oak Hammock, and many work with residents in the retirement community’s fitness center as personal trainers and fitness class instructors. Music professors assist with the retirement center’s choir and chamber music ensemble.

Senior housing and health services: As a continuing care retirement community, residents have access to all levels of care that are needed as they age. Residents have 21 different options for independent living, from studio apartments to free-standing “villas.” For those residents who come to need additional services, skilled nursing, assisted living and memory care living options are also available.

There is an on-site primary care clinic, dental services, and rehabilitation services. In addition, residents can take advantage of personal training and classes at the fitness center. Residents are part of a free advantage program for in-patient and out-patient health care services at University of Florida and Shands Health care.

Alumni Base: About 30 percent of all residents have some formal affiliation with the university as alumni, faculty or staff. Three former university presidents have called Oak Hammock home.

Kendal at Ithaca | Ithaca College/Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

Photo by Ithaca College

Photo by Ithaca College

Current number of residents: 298
Average age of resident: ~86
Average age of entry: 77-83, varies by year
Proximity to campus: By road, it’s about 8.5 miles to Ithaca College and 2.4 miles to Cornell University. Due to that distance, the campuses are not accessible by foot or bike.

Programming: Residents can’t audit classes free of charge. There is no year-round curriculum designed specifically for residents, but there are summer programs. Faculty often come to the retirement community to give lectures. Students visit to perform concerts and give presentations on various class projects.

Residents participate in research conducted by Cornell University and Ithaca College on the effects of aging on the brain and balance.

Student also come to the retirement community and give presentations on various class projects.

Senior housing and health services: For residents living independently, there are 167 cottages on Kendal at Ithaca’s 50 acres, and 45 apartments attached to the Community Center.

Kendal at Ithaca is a continuing care retirement community and offers assisted living residences, skilled nursing care and home care. They have physical and occupational therapy available in the health center.

Alumni Base: While Kendal at Ithaca does not have an official count, more than 17 percent have some kind of formal affiliation with the two universities. Many residents still maintain offices and academic responsibilities at Cornell. They continue to teach, supervise graduate students and do research.

Financial arrangement: The retirement community has no financial ties to Ithaca College or Cornell University. Kendal at Ithaca owns the land and independently operates the community. It does not contract any of its services with the universities.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.