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By Alix Langone
November 19, 2019

More seniors are heading back to college.

Senior citizens, that is. An increasing number of older Americans are choosing to move to college campuses, according to the Wall Street Journal.

University-based retirement communities, or UBRCs, are places where retirees live on campus and participate in all of the regular aspects of college life just like students do — taking classes, meeting friends for cafeteria lunches, going to football games — and they’re growing in popularity, the Journal says. That’s because now more than ever, current and soon-to-be retirees are looking for creative ways to live vibrant and engaged lives in retirement. UBRCs can offer that experience all in one place.

“It does make you feel more exuberant about life, because you’re not just in a place where everyone else is the same age and they are bemoaning the fact that they are getting old,” Caroline Schwarz-Schastny, 81, who lives in a senior community on the campus of Lasell University in Newton, Mass., told the Journal. Being around youthful college-aged students that make them feel younger is one of the most popular reasons retirees enjoy UBRCs, the Journal reports.

While the concept of a community filled with life-long learners of all ages and backgrounds sounds charming, there’s one major barrier to entry: cost.

UBRCs don’t come cheap: entrance fees start at $200,000 and can go as high as $1 million, with extra fees for couples, and monthly charges can range anywhere from $1,800 to $10,000, the Journal reports. Much of that money is earmarked for future use of the care facilities–if needed, residents can progress to assisted living or skilled nursing care on the premises.

But there are usually refund policies if a resident dies or moves out without using this additional health care: they can often get back up to 90% of their entrance fee in that case.

While those costs are high, staying in a private one bedroom room at an assisted living facility in the U.S. isn’t cheap either — it now costs an average of $48,612 per year, according to Genworth Financial’s 2019 Cost of Care survey.

There are some basic requirements most communities adhere to, like a minimum age requirement (one person in a couple must usually be between 55 and 65 years old). Housing arrangements vary from apartments of all sizes to stand-alone homes.

If you can afford to live a college campus-based retirement, you need to know what to look for before shelling out your life savings, experts advise. Not all communities are created equal.

So what exactly makes a UBRC a real UBRC? The definition is a bit loose, Andrew Carle, an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University on aging and health issues who created the expression, told the Journal. Right now, about 80 communities in the U.S. call themselves UBRCs, but Carle told the Journal he believes only about a dozen meet the criteria for a truly worthwhile experience.

Here is what to look for in a legitimate UBRC, according to Carle:

  • Be within about a mile of the college’s main campus — if a program isn’t close to or on campus, you can miss out on the community experience that makes going back to school worthwhile
  • Have a specific program for engagement with the regular students
  • Provide a continuum of care
  • Offer an easy to understand, written relationship between the university and the community (including alumni, retired faculty and staff)

For those who don’t have the cash for a second round of college, many universities also offer continuing adult education programs, and professors often allow retirees to audit classes for free.

But if you are able to pay, many UBRCs allow you to stay as long as you want. There’s no requirement that you leave after four years and a degree. Plus, colleges already have a nickname for people who stick around longer than most: Super seniors.

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