When you think about retirement housing, perhaps what comes to mind is something in the realm of an assisted living community — a mix of hospitality and health care for residents. But as the wave of Baby Boomers transitioning into retirement years continues, a new retirement community trend is emerging: university-based retirement communities (UBRCs). These communities provide assisted living, a variety of amenities that are available on campus, and an intergenerational environment where you are surrounded by college students, working professionals, and other seniors.
We know that where you live during retirement is one of the most important decisions you will make, and with so many choices available for senior living, depending on your goals and preferences in retirement, it can be that much more difficult. UBRCs have emerged as a popular option among people who are interested in lifelong learning and love the campus environment. The specific amenities of each university-based retirement community vary, but in general, here are some of the key benefits we think a college campus offers in your retirement.
If you’re thinking that living on a college campus means going back to dorm life, the good news is that college retirement communities include individual housing units specifically for seniors. Each UBRC is different, so some may have apartment-style living, while others have small neighborhoods with townhomes, duplexes, or single-family homes near campus.
We know that access to health care is an important part of your decision-making process. Many of the college- and university-based senior housing programs include a continuum of care, offering convenient access to providers and clinics for those who are more independent, as well as assisted living services for people managing chronic health conditions or who simply need more help. Depending on which college campus you choose, you could also be near a world-class academic medical center or teaching hospital that can provide a higher level of care, and access to cutting-edge research, including the ability to participate in clinical trials.
Just like their college-age counterparts, seniors who live on a college campus have access to a wide range of activities, including:
Participating in these activities and being around college students can even be good for your health; research has established significant benefits of intergenerational connections.
Most UBRCs allow retirees who are living on campus to enroll in college classes, which is not only a great way to learn something new and expand your horizons, but it may even be helpful to prevent or delay dementia as you age. You can also check if the UBRC you are considering is affiliated with a college or university designated as a lifelong learning institute. These institutions offer a diverse range of non-credit courses and educational activities for an older generation of college students who are there to learn and not just to get credit toward a degree — although anyone interested in a degree is still welcome to enroll in traditional courses.
There may come a time when it is no longer safe for you to drive. While we understand how hard it can be to lose the freedom that comes with having a vehicle and driver’s license, university-affiliated retirement communities include most of your daily activities within walking distance, as well as a robust (and often free) shuttle transportation system to get around.
When you are deciding where you want to live in retirement, there are some similarities, but also some key differences, between traditional senior living or assisted living community and UBRCs. Figuring out which one is right for you often comes down to personal preferences for the activities and amenities you want access to as you age, as well as how much assistance you need based on your health.
Senior living communities are a way for people who reach retirement age to live near others who are around the same age.
Assisted living communities are usually a good choice for older adults who cannot live on their own, but do not yet need a high level of medical care that a nursing home provides.
UBRCs are niche senior living communities for people interested in academic activities and other personal enrichment as part of their retirement.
As you start looking into retirement communities with university ties, perhaps you will notice there isn’t a specific checklist of criteria that a university or college campus must meet to be a UBRC. There are even some developers who claim to have university ties as a marketing tactic but are not official university-affiliated retirement communities. For that reason, it’s very important to do a little homework before you move in so you can find the community that meets your needs in retirement and offers the amenities you are hoping for as a retiree living on campus.
Andrew Carle, an internationally recognized expert on senior housing, identified five key criteria to check for in a university-based retirement community:
We’ve seen the number of retirement communities with connections to college and university campuses increasing nationwide, but here’s a glance at some of the current UBRC options in the U.S.
If you think retirement communities with university ties are the best option for you or your loved one, there are a few more key decision factors we believe you should consider.
A final consideration before determining whether a UBRC is the best choice for you is the cost.
One thing to note is that these communities usually have an up-front entry fee, which can range from about $100,000 on the low end to more than $5 million in upscale living communities like Vi at Palo Alto, a community near Stanford University. This up-front fee will cover future health care costs if you require them, including assisted living, nursing care, or memory care, depending on what is available. Many UBRCs offer a partial refund to you or your heirs — some up to 90% — if you don’t end up utilizing that high level of care, so it’s something to consider. We see a wide range of entry fees for a UBRC, often determined by factors like the location of the campus, local demand for senior housing and your housing unit.
In addition to the entry fee, you will pay a monthly service fee for amenities like housekeeping, yard and home maintenance, and campus access. Some universities include the cost of attending classes in the monthly fees, rather than paying separately for course enrollment. These monthly fees range from $1,800 to over $10,000 for one person, with added costs for a couple.
While we know that sounds expensive, the average annual cost to live in a nursing home is now over $100,000 a year, so the amenities and access to care at a UBRC may be well worth the cost if you would be happier on a college campus and can still receive the care you need as you age.
Yes, there are a lot of choices available for senior living and it seems to be growing every day. When you reach retirement age, a university-based retirement community may be the right choice if you love the idea of spending time learning and participating in college classes and want all the other benefits and amenities that a college campus can provide.