A senior adult college admissions counselor smiles and laughs as she works with unrecognizable students.
(Credit: SDI Productions / Getty Images)

University-affiliated senior living communities are banking on a new generation of residents looking to remain active, engaged and connected.

The baby boomers are the most highly educated retirement demographic in history — roughly 39% of adults 55 and older have a college degree, according to specialty investment banker Ziegler. And they are looking for new senior living experiences that include lifelong learning and intergenerational activities.

Some senior living communities are taking advantage of that desire for new retirement experiences. Through varying levels of affiliation with local universities, senior living communities are offering residents the opportunity to pursue education programs, attend performing arts events, cheer on college sports teams alongside their college-age neighbors, and engage with a new generation of college students.

While the concept of affiliating with a university is not a new concept — Green Hills Retirement Community in Ames, IA, affiliated with Iowa State University, and Meadowood in Bloomington, IN, affiliated with Indiana University in the mid-1980s — but the concept is picking up steam with the changing retirement wants and needs of the baby boomers.

Ziegler tracks 90 communities throughout the country that have a university affiliation, including 19% with direct ties with some degree of governance, sponsorship or land lease relationships with a university; 26% with indirect ties, in which the university provides some programming and draws residents from alumni; 36% with established ties, in which the university contributed equity, land or guarantee of debt; and 19% with no affiliation, in which the university and community share use of a common name or geographic location only. About one-third of those communities are located adjacent to or on a university campus. 

A blog by Megan Cunningham, a Ziegler senior living research analyst, provided several examples of senior living communities affiliated with universities, including The Spires at Berry College, a continuing care retirement / life plan community in Rome, GA, and Trinity Woods in Milwaukee, WI, an intergenerational housing community at Mount Mary University formed by a three-way partnerships between the university, the School Sisters of Notre Dame and Milwaukee Catholic Home. 

Mutually beneficial partnerships

Along with providing lifelong learning and intergenerational opportunities for residents, these partnerships also benefit the universities, who are seeing enrollment declines and exploring new ways to diversify revenue sources. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that freshmen enrollment in universities declined by 3.6% in 2023.

“University-affiliated senior living can offer this unique generation of retirees the intergenerational experience they are looking for, while providing schools with opportunities for new revenue streams, workforce development and unique cross-generational experiences,” wrote Ziegler’s Cunningham.

Earlier this year, former senior living executive Andrew Carle launched UniversityRetirementCommunities.com, the first national directory website providing a one-stop director of information for retirees interested in senior living communities associated with higher education institutions. 

The website provides resources for academic institutions, alumni associations and providers interested in developing university retirement communities, or URCs. There are links to organizations providing consulting, feasibility studies, development, architectural and interior design, and operations management.

Carle also is writing requirements for voluntary certification as a URC and plans to officially launch that aspect of the program next year.