A Florida senior living company is partnering with the University of Central Florida to launch a scholarship program for a new undergraduate degree in senior living management.

Tuscan Gardens Senior Living, which owns and operates communities throughout the Sunshine State, is partnering with UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management on a scholarship program for a new Bachelor of Science degree in senior living management. The program aims to prepare students for professional and leadership positions in senior living communities after they graduate.

Larry Pino, Tuscan Gardens Senior Living founder and CEO

Larry Pino, Tuscan Gardens’ founder and CEO, committed $6,500 per year for four years to the scholarship program. UCF is in the process of evaluating candidates. He said the dean of the college contacted him about spending time at Tuscan Gardens’ communities, and the two had conversations about developing a senior living management degree.

A spokeswoman for UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management said the school noticed that an increasing number of senior executive positions in the senior living industry are being occupied by hospitality executives, and that the aging services industry has “drastically changed its image from a mostly healthcare industry that caters to elderly and sick people to a resort-style industry that offers healthcare services to senior citizens who demand a high quality of both hospitality and healthcare services.”

When the school’s founding dean, Abraham Pizam, Ph.D., joined the board of directors of the retirement community Legacy Pointe at UCF, he started interacting with senior living executives, which led to the idea of a Bachelor of Science degree.

Six UCF students have declared senior living management as a major, and 24 students are enrolled in the Introduction to Senior Living Management course. The hope is that some of those students will declare senior living management as their major after “exposure to the dynamic nature of the industry,” Susan Vernon-Devlin, communications and marketing manager for the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management, told McKnight’s Senior Living.

The program anticipates enrolling a total of 160 students in the next five years, or 40 students per year.

“The UCF Rosen College Senior Living Management degree program addresses the needs of a rapidly growing industry and has long-lasting career potential for young leaders who seek to enter this field,” said Youcheng Wang, Ph.D., dean of the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management. “With generous support and partnership of industry leaders, such as Dr. Larry Pino and Tuscan Gardens, students who are embarking on their academic journeys into this field will have scholarship support to complete their undergraduate degrees. Students will also have access to current leaders in the senior living industry who can help to guide them on the path to a career beyond the classroom.”

Pino, an author, lawyer and entrepreneur, joined the college’s Senior Living Advisory Board to provide guidance for the college’s internship programs as well as program leadership relevant senior living professionals.

He said there aren’t a lot of programs academically teaching and graduating people into the industry. Although Argentum and other trade organizations that serve the senior living industry offer training programs, he said, in general, people are “not attracted to them unless they are already in the industry and identifying some career objective by getting certified.”

“Virtually everyone comes from the clinical side, so to have academic training, from a clinical standpoint, anyone involved in senior living just comes in and learns on the job,” Pino said. “I’m very enthusiastic about doing anything to assist them and pleased to give industry feedback in development of their curriculum.”

Pino said a structured academic program providing a “360-degree” exposure to the industry will produce leaders studying best practices in an academic environment. He added that he hopes a graduate program will be added in the future.

“I see that as being potentially more valuable to employers than at the undergraduate level,” he said.

Some other schools offering senior living degrees include University of Southern California, which offers a master of arts degree in senior living hospitality through its Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, and Washington State University, which offers an undergraduate senior living management major in its School of Hospitality Business Management.

Vernon-Devlin said the UCF program is multidisciplinary and includes required courses in healthcare offered by the College of Health Professionals, whereas WSU’s program is “mono-disciplinary,” with all courses offered through the Carson College of Business. The UCF program also has required courses in nutrition, food preparation and event management, which are “crucial topics” for senior community operations, she said.