Tiffany Franks, Ed.D., and Russell Barksdale Jr. shake on their institutions’ new agreement.

A new partnership between Roanoke, VA, senior living community Friendship and Danville, VA-based Averett University is designed to make undergraduate and master’s degree education as well as continuing education more affordable and convenient for the community’s more than 700 staff members as well as their spouses and immediate family members.

The move comes at a time when the senior living industry is challenged to attract and retain high-quality workers. Through 2025, the industry will need to hire 1.2 million new employees to serve the increasing number of older adults becoming senior living residents and to replace existing workers who leave their jobs, according to Argentum’s “Getting to 2025: A Senior Living Roadmap.” A recent survey of senior living chief financial officers by Ziegler found that many senior living organizations view establishing relationships with higher education institutions, providing financial assistance for current employees who wish to pursue nursing careers, and training current staff members to move into nursing positions as ways to help recruit and keep staff members.

The Friendship Foundation–Averett University Corporate Partnership Program goes beyond nursing. Participants will be able to work toward undergraduate degrees in nursing, but they also will be able to work toward undergraduate and master’s degrees in business administration.

The program is open to all employees of Friendship, which offers independent and assisted living apartments, memory care, inpatient rehabilitation and skilled nursing care and other services, and it’s also available to employees of Salem Terrace at Harrogate, an assisted living and memory care community operated by Friendship. Spouses and immediate family members are eligible, too.

“Employees will have the opportunity to earn a degree at a significantly reduced rate,” Chris Dodd, Friendship’s director of marketing, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “When coupled with our tuition reimbursement program, there could be very little or no cost to the employee toward earning their degree.”

The tuition rate will be frozen for three years, and the registration fee will be waived for degree-seeking students. Participants will not be required to sign long-term employment agreements with Friendship.

Friendship said it wants to make learning and development a top business priority for its staff members. In the first year of the program, classes will be offered online and at Averett’s satellite location in Roanoke. Ultimately, however, Friendship plans to offer classes on-site to make it even easier for employees to balance their work and personal time, Dodd said.

The two organizations are also developing for-credit offerings to replace Friendship’s current non-credit professional development courses. Those single courses will be part of Friendship’s career development program for employees.

Friendship already has partnerships with Virginia Western Community College, Radford University, TAP (Total Action for Progress) This Valley Works, and Goodwill Industries of the Valley that are designed to support the learning and teaching experiences of certified nursing assistant and registered nurse program students as well as physical therapy doctoral students by offering financial assistance or hands-on experience. Some of the student beneficiaries become Friendship employees upon graduation, Dodd said.

Friendship also has been conducting its own five-week program that provides local nursing assistant students with the opportunity to experience nursing rotations as part of their education. Students who become CNAs through the program have the opportunity to become Friendship employees, Dodd said.

The senior living organization is pursuing additional partnerships with other educational institutions that will enable employees to work toward registered dietitian certification as well as master’s degrees in social work, nursing, physical therapy and occupational therapy.

In the photo: Tiffany M. Franks, Ed.D., president of Averett University, and Russell Barksdale Jr., president and CEO of Friendship, shake on the institutions’ new agreement.