A new senior living management major at Washington State University is designed to prepare business students for managerial positions in the senior living industry, with a focus on hospitality operations.

The undergraduate major will be offered on the Pullman, WA, campus of WSU’s School of Hospitality Business Management under the Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living. The institute, dedicated in 2017, is named for the late industry veteran who founded assisted living company Cobbco; served as president, CEO and director of Summerville Senior Living; was president and CEO of Emeritus Senior Living; and became a board member of Brookdale Senior living when it merged with Emeritus.

“The goal is to be the program of choice for students and industry seeking an operationally focused senior living management program, supported by a solid business foundation, for education, training, employment and support,” said Nancy Swanger, founding director of the WSU Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living. “Graduates will be poised to become the next generation of senior living leaders to improve best practices, technology and residents’ quality of life.”

Plans for a WSU senior living management program began several years ago in conversations with some of the nation’s top senior living providers, including Aegis Living, Leisure Care, Emeritus (now Brookdale) and Merrill Gardens. The school’s first senior living offering was an elective course launched in 2011. The school added an online senior living certificate that is being revised to meet the needs of the industry. 

“Senior living companies came to us because they wanted people with a hospitality mindset who can enhance a service model, versus a skilled nursing or a medical model,” Swanger said. “They loved the fact that we are a hospitality school in an accredited college of business.

“Our students graduate with very solid business fundamentals. Senior living companies are still businesses, and people have to understand ‘no margin, no mission.’ ”

Swanger told McKnight’s Senior Living that 29 students interested in senior living management have been admitted to the university, and 10 of those confirmed their admission and will be enrolling for fall classes.

“We are actually quite encouraged by these numbers, as we were not allowed to market the major in any fashion until it was approved by the Faculty Senate and the Board of Regents. Those approvals came in late May,” Swanger said. 

There are only a handful of four-year degree programs in hospitality housed in accredited colleges of business. SHBM is among the first to offer a senior living major in an accredited college of business.

As 75 million baby boomers reach retirement age in the next eight to 10 years, the demand for senior living professionals will skyrocket, according to projections from Argentum. Swanger said there aren’t enough quality managers to meet the growing demand of the business.

“The technology and lifestyle of senior living will present some of the most entrepreneurial career spaces in the future,” she said. 

Students in the program receive immersive learning opportunities at senior living communities each semester and are required to earn 1,000 hours of paid industry experience to graduate. 

Swanger said SHBM continues to work with multiple industry and vendor partners, along with several individuals, through the institute to keep its curriculum relevant and increase the number of professionals and students studying senior living management. Their support includes a range of involvement, including financial, steering committee membership, guest lecturers, course instructors, curriculum development, collaborative research projects, student internships / work experience, scholarships and field trips.

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