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Sunday, July 7, 2024

Retirement Communities Linked to Colleges, Universities

Looking for intellectual stimulation in an intergenerational environment? You don’t have to be an alumnus to enjoy living in a retirement community affiliated with an institute of higher learning.

University-based retirement communities are springing up all over the country. They’re at Stanford, Iowa State, Penn State, Duke and the University of Florida, among more than 100 continuing-care retirement communities (CCRC) in 30 states. Often, they offer free or reduced-price access to classes, music and theater production, athletic events and sometimes even research projects at the partner campus. 

“People need to have purpose in their lives,” says Amber Henninger, an 88 year old resident of Vi at Palo Alto, affiliated with Stanford. She goes to home basketball and football games, serves as an usher at university events and goes to most of the six lectures per month provided in Vi’s auditorium. “Retirement was going to be the next phase of life. It wasn’t going to be the end of life. And to connect with a university gives you so many options.”


Many of these campus communities have a mixture of independent living units, assisted living, memory support and skilled nursing care facilities. The pricing model is a hefty entry fee and monthly payments. How much? The entry fee for a one-bedroom at Vi at Palo Alto will set you back a little more than $1 million, with monthly payments of about $5,770. 

Certified University Retirement Communities

The first certification program for university retirement communities is already here, proposed by senior university retirement community expert Andrew Carle. It looks at a five-criteria model, including:

  1. Close proximity to the host academic institution.
  2. A full continuum of independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing services.
  3. Formalized programming between the community and the academic institution.
  4. A formal business relationship between the community and the academic institution.
  5. A resident population that includes at least 10% alumni, retired faculty or staff in the mix.

For more information about Certified University Retirement Communities, go here. For a listing of the same, go here.

“What it’s about is who you want to spend the rest of your life talking to,” says Linda Cork, a retired Stanford professor who also chose Vi at Palo Alto. Her fellow residents “want to be active mentally. It doesn’t mean we don’t have bridge groups and canasta and mah-jongg, but they are also very interested in the life of the mind.”

Schools Benefit

As enrollment of traditional-age college students has dropped by 4 million over the last decade, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, seniors 65 and over are the fastest growing group in the US. 

"Universities need to diversify, and if they're largely tuition-driven, you need to find other revenue sources,” says Tom Meuser, director of the Center for Excellence in Aging and Health at the University of New England.

Many colleges and universities have an abundance of real estate, and they usually get a cut of retirement housing profits through lease arrangements with developers or they own the facilities outright. They may also benefit from fundraising.

Some CCRC contracts reimburse a portion of entry fees to a resident’s estate upon death. With so many being alumni or retired faculty, there is the possibility for generous bequests from those refunds. 

“This is a strategy to help enhance alumni loyalty and expand the ways alumni can connect to their alma mater, and there are also development opportunities for the universities,” says Brian Carpenter, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies the psychology of aging.

The communities can double as living laboratories for schools to study aging and offer work experience to university students enrolled in fields serving and supporting the large senior population. 

"The synergy is here,” Meuser says.

Find a list of CCRCs here. And be sure to contact colleges or universities you may be interested in to see if they’re planning such a community in the near future, as they’re becoming more and more popular.