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Why College Towns Can Be a Good Fit for Retirees

April 22, 2019 

College towns rank among the best places to retire


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John Hennigan, a professional poker player in Vegas, wondered what it would be like to live in Des Moines, Iowa. He bet some fellow poker players $30,000 that he could leave the poker table, jet to Des Moines, and live there for a month. His poker buddies knew that Hennigan enjoyed the high-stakes poker lifestyle, and doubted he could handle the quieter pace of Des Moines. His friends were right. After two days, Hennigan agreed to pay $15,000 to get out of the bet.

Des Moines wasn’t a good fit for him.

Unlike Hennigan’s experience, the location your clients choose for retirement needs to be a good fit. Many retirees are finding some unexpected advantages in college towns. You might not think that a town full of 18-22 year olds would be an ideal retirement location, but college towns make up 11 of the top 25 locations in Forbes' Best Places to Retire in 2018. What makes them a good fit for retirees? It’s the advantages of accessibility, great healthcare, and an array of activities to meet a variety of interests.


College Towns Top the List for Best Places to Retire


Source: The Best Places To Retire In 2018, Forbes, 4/23/18


What we’ll cover:

  • Some college towns are prepped for retirees
  • Organizations make access to learning easier
  • It’s easy to get around


First, Some College Towns Are Prepped for Retirees

For some of your clients, learning in retirement will be a priority. If they’re planning to relocate, you can suggest that they consider a college town. But with more than 5,300 colleges in the US,1 how will they decide? They could check out university-based-retirement communities—privately-owned retirement communities in college towns. They typically have an affiliation with a nearby college and are designed to benefit retirees. These communities offer retirees the opportunity to attend classes and university activities, such as guest lectures, concerts, and cultural or sporting events.


There Are Over 100 University-Based-Retirement Communities in the US Today

There isn’t a set standard of criteria that all these communities follow. The list below was developed by Andrew Carle, assistant professor at George Mason University and an expert in these communities. Clients could use these general guidelines to evaluate the choices:

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A location that is accessible to the school (within one mile of the university, preferably)

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Formalized programming that incorporates the school and the community

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A full program of continuing care, from independent to assisted living

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At least 10% of residents having some connection to the school

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A documented financial relationship between the university and the senior-housing provider

Not all university-based-retirement communities meet all the criteria above, so clients will need to do their homework to understand what programs and services each one provides. They could also consider retirement communities that are located near a college but not affiliated with it—or simply living in a private residence near a college town. Either way, the concept is based on the notion that even people of retirement age are interested in what colleges and college towns provide.


Second, Some Organizations Make Access to Learning Easy

Many popular retirement communities are in scenic locations with golf courses nearby. Think about what people do for recreation there. What comes to mind? Were you thinking bingo, movie night, or card games?

College towns can offer some or all of those same activities, as well as diverse intellectual opportunities. And some organizations make learning available without the typically high cost of college courses.

Lifelong Learning Institutes are affiliated with colleges and offer non-credit, college-level educational experiences for older adults, but with little or no homework and at a fraction of the cost. The institute’s classes are taught by members, retired and active faculty, and outside experts.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes also offer a distinctive array of non-credit courses and activities specifically developed for adults age 50 or older who are seeking intellectual enrichment. These institutes can be found on campuses of 123 colleges and universities.

University-Based-Retirement Communities typically allow retires to audit classes at nearby colleges, which means that retirees can attend classes for free without receiving credits. If clients are considering one of these communities, they should ask the staff about availability of courses. Some communities don’t provide access to all courses, or they may offer them on a space-available basis. Lasell Village, a UBRC in Newton, Massachusetts, takes lifelong learning to a whole new level: they require it. Residents are required to complete 450 hours of learning and fitness activities every year.


On Campuses, Retirees Find Plenty of Cultural Events

If your clients move near a college campus, they’ll have access to plays, recitals, concerts, lectures, and art galleries. For example, the UBRC Kendal at Hanover in New Hampshire offers retirees access to over 500 events in film, dance, music, and theater each year on the Dartmouth University campus. There are also major sporting events including basketball, football, and lacrosse, among others. College sporting and cultural events are relatively inexpensive and some may even be free.

Another benefit of retiring to a college town versus a traditional retirement community is the opportunity to mingle and socialize with younger people. In addition to interacting with younger students in classes, retirees can find volunteer opportunities on campus, such as mentoring other students. Conversely, college students often volunteer at the UBRCs. For example, computer science majors may do one-on-one computer training with retirees, or students in the art department may lead ceramics or painting workshops.


Third, It’s Easy to Get Around

Early in retirement, driving is usually feasible for retirees. But as the years roll by, driving can become a challenge. When this happens, they often rely on family to shuttle them around. Depending on where retirees live, options such as public transportation, taxis, or Uber and Lyft may or may not be available.

Because lots of students don’t have cars on campus, most things students need are within walking distance. That’s good news for retirees who have driving limitations. They can usually walk to the campus, restaurants, and stores. And for clients who like to walk for exercise, there are lots of walking and biking trails in college towns.

College towns also offer reliable public and private transportation options. If retirees live in a retirement community in a college town, transportation to the campus and other popular locations are typically available. And pay-for-ride options, like Uber or Lyft, are usually available in minutes. Plus they can get food from local restaurants delivered to them using services like Grubhub. College towns give them easy access to the things they’ll want and need.


Would Your Clients Feel Out of Place on Campus?

College towns aren’t always a good fit for retirees. It’s natural for them to feel awkward entering a classroom filled with a bunch of younger students. But most residents in UBRCs want to keep learning, so retirees would likely be attending classes with fellow retirees. This can alleviate those awkward feelings. If clients still aren’t sure they’d fit in, they might be able to find a place to rent at SabbaticalHomes.com to get a feel for the lifestyle. This option, which isn’t limited to professors and academics, gives them the chance to live in a college town for a year or so before deciding to make a long-term commitment.


Clients Should Remember These Things if They’re Considering a College Town for Retirement

First, remember that some college-town communities are better suited for retirees than others. UBRCs are retirement communities that typically have affiliations with colleges and are specifically designed to benefit retirees. Second, organizations like Lifelong Learning Institutes and provide easy access to courses in college towns. Third, suggest that your clients do a bit of time traveling. They should imagine a time in their future if they couldn’t drive. How would that impact their life? Communities in college towns tend to offer lots of transportation alternatives.


Some Retirees Want More Than a Leisure-Filled Retirement

When we think of the typical retirement community, we often envision aging adults engaging in leisure-focused activities. But some retirees envision something else. Retirees are finding that college towns offer unexpected advantages, such as lifelong learning, cultural experiences and interaction with younger generations. If college towns sound enticing, clients should do their homework, so they don’t regret a move like John Hennigan did.


Next Steps:

  • Download the client piece below and share it with clients who are considering a move in retirement
  • View or email a client version of this web page to clients
  • Find out if there are any UBRCs or organizations affiliated with nearby colleges that make learning affordable and accessible to retirees







1How Many Colleges and Universities Do We Really Need? The Washington Post, 7/20/15. Most recent data available.

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