How To Continue Your Education at The University of Retirement Living

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healty living university of retirement“No more classrooms. No more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks,” so goes the old children’s rhyme chanted through hallways everywhere as summer approaches. They may have been singing this very song 50 years ago, but now, today’s retirees are singing a very different tune.

More and more active adults are seeking educational opportunities in retirement. From learning vacations to the full campus lifestyle, retirees are making the world their classroom and learning their life. For these individuals, retirement is not about relaxing or rest homes, it is a learning opportunity. They form the inaugural class of the rapidly growing “University of Retirement.” The University of Retirement does not have a single campus or strict degree requirements, and it is not symbolized by an imposing building or an endearing mascot. The University of Retirement Living is a way of life.

In recent years, educational opportunities in retirement have expanded from the routine health and wellness classes offered at the local senior center to include a wide array of intellectually and physically stimulating offerings. From poetry to history and from physics to geology, seniors can find classes specifically tailored to their interests and ability levels. Physical fitness classes ranging from Tai Chi to Spinning help older adults keep their bodies fit as well.

The philosophy of lifelong learning was crafted by retirees themselves, who are increasingly aware of the importance of remaining physically, mentally, and socially active. Many lifelong learning institutes and senior education programs were organized in response to the lack of these vital opportunities in local communities. As each new program emerges, colleges, universities, retirement living service providers, and local governments are taking notice and taking action to provide these same types of services to their populations.

Elderhostel, the world’s largest educational travel organization for adults 55 and over, was among the first organizations to respond to the lack of educational opportunities for American over age 55. According to their website, the not-for-profit organization now serves almost 200,000 program attendees and offers nearly 10,000 programs ever year in more than 90 countries.

The growth of Elderhostel coincided with the grassroots development of college-affiliated and community-driven lifelong learning institutes. These institutes were conceptualized and conceived by alumni and community activists. Many of these same institutes are now affiliated with Elderhostel and offer on-campus programs and learning and travel opportunities. For a list of lifelong learning institutes affiliated with Elderhostel and/or a list of programs in your community, visit their website at

The Elderhostel programs and institutes are well known, but they only account for a fraction of the lifelong learning and continuing education programs available in this area. For a comprehensive list of the wide array of programs, institutes, and other educational opportunities available in the D.C. Metropolitan region, please see the chart.

The enormous growth of continuing education programs has not gone unnoticed by the retirement living industry. As the Baby Boomers age, the industry is faced with the challenge of providing more than just care. Baby Boomers, a large majority of them college educated, are demanding more opportunities in retirement. They want more than bingo and sittercise; they want to be challenged, to learn, and to continue to grow. In direct response to this demand, retirement communities affiliated with universities are being developed across the country.

These communities are connected with their affiliated university to varying degrees-from on-campus communities with class requirements to loose affiliates that provide access to university amenities to residents. An industry standard for defining these communities is yet to be developed, which makes charting the growth of these types of communities difficult. In “Advanced Education,” Alvin Sanoff explains, “There is no precise count [of retirement communities linked to universities] available-estimates range from a few dozen to about 80-and they vary in the amenities they offer and how they are set up financially.”

In an attempt to help quantify what these communities are and what they can offer retirees and universities, Andrew Carle, Director of the Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University, has coined the term “University Based Retirement Communities” (UBRC’s). Carle explains that such communities have direct links to universities and are located either on-campus or very close to university grounds. Residents of UBRC’s are given access to university educational and social opportunities, often including university facilities, amenities, and sporting events. The university also maintains teaching, education, employment, volunteering, and other opportunities for students and faculty within the community.

For retirees, this association is incredibly beneficial because it provides convenient opportunities for continued education and intergenerational activities. Many of these communities are marketed to university alums and retiring faculty, who have nostalgic ties to the university. This, Carle notes, is also beneficial to the operators of the retirement community because they tap into “a unique brand loyalty that was established up to 50 years in advance of purchase and will never end as long as the university exists.”

According to Carle, a typical UBRC includes a mix of independent living units (in the form of houses, townhouses, or apartments), as well as assisted living, skilled nursing, and often Alzheimer’s services – which are consolidated within a core health care center. Entrance fees and monthly costs vary widely. Examples of communities meeting Carle’s criteria for a UBRC include: Oak Hammock (University of Florida), The Village at Penn State (Penn State University), Lasell Village (Lasell College), Classic Residence by Hyatt (Stanford University), Kendal at Oberlin (Oberlin College), Green Hills (Iowa State University), and Longview (Ithaca College). Dozens of other UBRC’s are currently under development or review, including one at George Mason University.

The continued development and improvement of UBRC’s signals a shift in the retirement living industry in response to the demands of today’s active retirees. Lounging by the ocean or whiling away the hours on a golf course is still a common retirement dream; however, the unprecedented growth in continuing education and lifelong learning programs and the more recent development of UBRC’s demonstrates an increasing desire for something more.

This new breed of retiree wants more than relaxation. They seek challenges, new experiences, and the rewards that come from accomplishment. An emerging population of highly-motivated, older adults is busy building a new model of retirement living-one that can most accurately be called the University of Retirement. And the last thing they want is “no more books”

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