Moving Back to Campus in Retirement
Going to classes, hanging out at the dining hall, arguing about politics and philosophy--these no longer have to be just fond college memories for baby boomers, but an experience they can look forward to as they become eligible for Social Security.
University-based retirement communities are the fastest growing part of an overall trend to offer senior living options targeted at specialized groups, says Andrew Carle, who directs the senior housing program at George Mason University. These new compounds offer the vibrancy of a college town, access to the amenities and intellectual opportunities of higher education and a very different vision of post-work life than those of previous generations.
Institutions as geographically diverse as Stanford University, the University of Arizona, Notre Dame and Pennsylvania State University either have such retirement communities or have developments in progress.
"The goal in the '50s was to create very nice elderly islands," Carle says. "But now people want intergenerational living, not retiring to a rocking chair on top of a mountain or on a golf course."
Carle estimates that there are four dozen college-based communities in existence, and another four dozen in the works.
"The future is about three things," he says. "Being active, being intellectually stimulated and intergenerational environments. That describes a college campus."
Take Lasell Village, which opened in 2000 in Newton, Mass. and offers the amenities of an upscale retirement community: one- and two-bedroom apartments, well-appointed dining rooms, gardening rooms and art and dance studios. The village also has this requirement: All 215 residents must agree to take 450 hours of classes each year at nearby Lasell College.
Entrance fees are $250,000 to $900,000, depending on the size of the apartment and chosen meal plan, and 90 percent is returned when a resident leaves or dies. Monthly fees range from $3,000 to $7,500 and include one meal a day, maintenance, internet access, cleaning, and educational and cultural courses, says Marcia Fredlich, the village's marketing director.
Perry Norton, 77, and his wife, Bonnie, 71, are both doctors. They moved from their house in Jamaica Plains, Mass., to Lasell Village about a year ago and were attracted by the community's college offerings.
"We felt we would be with like-minded folks," says Perry Norton, who has taken classes such as the "Philosophy of Law" and "Movies of the 1950s." He particularly likes "that we see young people all the time. We don't interact with them as much as I had hoped, but with time I think that will change."
Beyond Shuffleboard and Bingo
Other retirement communities don't require college credit, but many have strong links to their host colleges. For example, The Village at Penn State opened its doors in 2003 and offers discounts to Penn State grads. Many residents are alumni, former faculty or have a daughter or son teaching at the university, says Jill Lillie, The Village's marketing director.
The Village--which overlooks the university's Beaver football stadium--can take one free class a semester, if there is space, and have a choice of five to seven daily fitness classes, some taught by college students.
"It's not shuffleboard and bingo," Lillie says, noting that on-site college interns "give a certain vibrancy" to The Village. Residents aren't the only ones who benefit; students who work or teach there overcome many misconceptions about seniors, Lillie says.
The initial deposit at The Village ranges from $181,500 to $600,000, Lillie says, and, as at Lasell Village, 90 percent of the deposit is returned when the resident leaves or dies. Monthly fees are $2,500 to $4,800.
The Wave of the Future
Most existing university-linked communities are open to residents 62 and older and offer a continuum from independent living to assisted living to continuing care. There also is growing interest in "Active Adult Communities," which are aimed at those over 55 and don't offer long-term medical care.
Few 55+ college complexes exist now, but several are on the drawing board, says Gerard Badler, managing director of Campus Continuum, a consulting firm that works with developers and universities.
"There's a demand," Badler says. "If you talk to the CFO or treasurer (of the university), it's about fundraising. If you talk to the university president, it's about expanding the diversity of the institution."
A Sense of Community
Not all academic-focused retirement communities are formally connected to colleges.
Brookhaven at Lexington in Boston is an independent community that attracts many retired Ivy League professors who offer lectures to fellow residents and also take classes at nearby schools such as Harvard University.
Elga and Harry Wasserman moved to Brookhaven four years ago. Before retiring, Elga Wasserman was a dean at Yale University and oversaw the integration of women on campus in 1969; Harry Wasserman, 89, was a chemistry professor at Yale who enjoys a second career as a painter. He taught a painting class for a year at the community.
"I wish we had moved in here when we were younger," says Elga Wasserman, 86. "It's the kind of community where the more active you are, the more close friends you develop."