Blog Post

Cultivating 55+ Communities on Campus

Higher Education and Senior Living

Interview with Andrew Carle, Adjunct Faculty, Senior Living Administration, Georgetown University

The spring 2023 edition of Trends for Higher Education includes an item about a relatively new development in the senior housing field, university-based retirement communities (UBRCs). To gain additional insight into the potential opportunities and obstacles UBRCs present for higher education, we turned to Andrew Carle, adjunct faculty member, senior living administration for Georgetown University’s Master of Science Program in Aging & Health. He is also the founding director of George Mason University’s senior housing administration program, establishing the first curricula for the field.

During his tenure at George Mason, Carle developed a five-criteria model outlining key aspects to consider in the design and operation of a successful UBRC:

  1. A location accessible to core campus facilities
  2. Formalized programming that ensures integration between community residents and university students, faculty, and staff
  3. Inclusion of the full continuum of senior housing services, including independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, and dementia care, as needed
  4. A documented financial relationship between the university and the senior housing provider
  5. A goal of at least 10 percent of residents having some connection to the university, either as alumni, retired faculty, or staff or family of the same. (Source: Nursing Homes Magazine, May 2006)

According to Carle, many, if not most, of the new communities being developed are using the model as at least a guide, though there is still progress to be made. An internationally recognized leader in the senior living industry, Carle advises academic institutions, technology companies, and related aging services organizations through his consulting practice, Carle Consulting, LLC.

Carle graciously accepted our invitation to address some questions about this trend and how institutions can explore the advantages and disadvantages associated with UBRCs.

From your perspective, what has served as the catalyst or contributing factor for the creation of UBRCs?

Retiring university officials and faculty at Meadowood at Indiana University and Green Hills at Iowa State University established what are considered the first versions of what are now viewed as “UBRCs” in the 1960s. However, most of the current models have been developed in the past 20 years. In the first case, the UBRCs were driven not only by the Baby Boomers but by the prior Silent Generation, more than a quarter of whom attended college, including through the GI Bill. Studies have shown that both the Silent and even more highly educated Baby Boomer generations are seeking to move past retiring to a rocking chair on the porch, to experience what I call “active, intellectually stimulating, and intergenerational” retirement environments . . . essentially a college campus, if not their alma mater.

Do you think this trend will grow with more higher education institutions considering UBRCs as viable options for leveraging their resources?

As with any other product, it will grow based on consumer demand, which will continue to be significant among Boomer retirees. It will be hard to ignore a population that controls 70 percent of the nation’s wealth, at a time when enrollment for traditional on-campus students has been declining, while the academic institution has in-demand resources to share.

In your experience, how do UBRCs benefit higher education institutions and the communities in which they are located?

In addition to what I previously mentioned, there is the factor of academic institutions fulfilling their mission to serve their communities and society. By 2030 more than one-fifth of the US population will be over the age of 65. Every university or college focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion needs to understand how that must include “age.”

What’s your best or most important advice for higher education leaders considering UBRCs?

First and foremost, not all academic institutions are the right fit for a UBRC. It is not a “build it and they will come” strategy. This is unfortunately particularly true for smaller, rural academic institutions that may feel a university retirement community will help address declining enrollment and other issues.

Second, senior living is a complex industry. Most academic institutions now know this, but the importance of partnering with a credible senior living developer and operator cannot be underestimated. The US offers some of the best senior living providers in the world, but academic institutions need to know who the credible senior living providers are.

Third, structure any partnerships to achieve synergy between the academic institution and the senior living provider. Let senior living providers focus on what they do best (senior living), while ensuring they don’t ignore access to all the university resources community residents are seeking. Maximize the opportunities for residents to connect with the university and for students and faculty to connect with the senior living community.

Finally, academic institutions should not underestimate the value of what they can offer. UBRCs not only offer differentiation in a senior living industry that has increasingly become a “sea of sameness,” but the model can position the provider as the first choice in the market for the next 50 years. Land leases; licensing and royalty rights for name use; contract medical and health care benefits for staff, alumni, and retired faculty; and shared operational resources can all be on the table without getting into either ownership or operation of the community. Don’t just give away your brand: it’s the most valuable thing you own to a senior living provider.

Read all of the trends and analysis from the Spring 2023 issue of Trends for Higher Education.