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.
Benefits of retirement life on a college campus
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:
Participation in school sporting and athletic events
Alumni events (being an alumnus or alumna of the institution is not required)
Fitness center/recreation center membership and classes
Performance arts and cultural events
Mentoring and volunteer activities
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.
Difference between a UBRC and senior/assisted living
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.
Features of senior living communities
Single-family homes, condos, townhouses or apartment living options that vary by community
Single-story or main-floor-living homes to address mobility challenges
Amenities to support an active lifestyle, such as a community center, recreation and fitness (golf, swimming, tennis), structured activities and volunteer groups
Generally located in residential areas of a city or town surrounded by other residential neighborhoods, with shopping or retail nearby, depending on the location
Some communities are designed with walkability in mind, but you may need access to a vehicle to get around
Home and/or yard maintenance may also be included as part of a homeowners association or apartment community
Senior living communities are a way for people who reach retirement age to live near others who are around the same age.
Features of assisted living communities
Private or semi-private bedrooms and bathrooms for residents
Help with daily activities like bathing, laundry, housekeeping and cooking
Limited medical care, but access to caregivers 24/7 who can help with things like taking medication
Transportation to and from medical appointments
Recreational and community activities with others who live in the community
On-site entertainment venues or other personal care activities in some communities
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.
Features of university-based retirement communities
Single-family homes, condos, townhouses or apartment living options that are on a college campus or nearby (often within walking distance)
Communities designed with walkability in mind, allowing you access to most of your daily activities without driving
Access to all the amenities available on a college campus, including top-notch fitness centers, recreation centers, pools, sports venues, sports teams and more
Access to performing arts and cultural communities, including music venues, theater performances, art galleries and a world-class library
Opportunity to enroll in non-credit college courses to provide intellectual stimulation (many colleges and universities also allow retirees who want to earn a college degree to enroll in courses for credit, although this usually costs more)
A diverse population and interactions with college-age students, professors, university staff and other retirees in your community
Continuum of care options that allow you to transition from independent living to assisted living or nursing care communities as your needs change.
How to find the right university-linked retirement communities
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.
Location: The community should be close to the main university or college campus, preferably within one mile. This allows residents the opportunity to take advantage of the amenities on campus and lifelong learning opportunities without significant travel requirements.
Programming: There should be a formalized program that helps connect seniors to academic services and other amenities at the university or college. Simply being near a college or university is not the same as offering residents benefits like discounted tickets to sporting events, access to the pool and fitness center and the ability to check out books from the library. Formalized programs to connect residents with the university or college also ensure there will be a variety of classes available without paying traditional college tuition, which is expensive.
Health care: UBRC residents should have access to essential care, ranging from basic services for more independent residents to fully assisted living for those who need it. Many campuses recognize the value of creating a continuum of care model that allows you to access more assistance and health care services as you age and your health care needs increase. We believe this type of aging-in-place model is valuable if you don’t want to move again later.
Alumni community: Most UBRCs have a portion of residents with some type of alumni relationship with the university or college, but an alumni connection is not necessarily a requirement.
Financial ties: The UBRC should have documented financial ties to and support from the university or college. These can range from a partnership of mutually beneficial programs to a complex financial relationship where the university manages the senior living community.
List of colleges and universities with retirement communities
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.
Proximity to you: Do you want to relocate to a new city or state, or would you prefer to find a UBRC that is close to where you live right now?
Alumni affiliation: Is it important to you that you live on the campus of a university where you attended as a student or worked as a professor or as another higher-education professional?
Safety and security: Do you feel comfortable living on or near the campus of the school? Do the community and the housing provide adequate safety and security measures for aging adults?
Neighborhood: Are you comfortable living in the neighborhood where the university-based retirement community is located? Are you fine living in the vicinity of college-age students, which may come with some trade-offs, like loud parties on the weekends?
Care considerations: Does the UBRC provide the level of health care to meet your current needs? Can they continue to meet your needs as you get older and require more assistance or care?
Research: Are you comfortable participating in research studies with students and faculty at the university? Many UBRCs are designed to provide seniors with access to housing and amenities, and connecting them to researchers and students who are studying aging.
The cost of university-based retirement communities
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.
The Bottom Line
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.
Amie has been writing about senior care products and services for the last decade. She is particularly passionate about new technologies that help improve the quality of life for seniors and their families. Seeing her parents and grandparents age made Amie ask herself, “Would this be good enough for my loved ones?” In her spare time, Amie enjoys outdoor adventures and spontaneous road trips. Learn more about Amie here