Seniors starting a new chapter in life are choosing to have the college experience as part of their retirement — but they’re not moving into the dorms. Designed just for seniors, university retirement communities, or university-based retirement communities (UBRCs), are gaining popularity for their myriad opportunities.
Read on for an in-depth look into UBRCs, including their benefits, amenities, and costs. Plus, learn from residents and students how living in these university-affiliated, intergenerational retirement communities offers an enriching experience.
A number of communities claim to be UBRCs, but the ones with the best approach meet a specific set of criteria, according to Andrew Carle, faculty and lead instructor for the Program in Senior Living Administration at Georgetown University — and the person who coined the term university-based retirement community.
Carle advised that successful UBRCs meet the following criteria:
What people want from their retirement these days is to be active, intellectually stimulated, and connected with an intergenerational community. Those three qualities are also how you might describe a college campus.
“[Seniors] want that open-mindedness, that crucible of energy that happens on college campuses that is awakening and progressive,” said Ashley Wade, director of marketing at Broadview Senior Living, a UBRC coming to the campus of Purchase College in Harrison, New York, in 2023.
Studies have shown the dated concept of the golden years is doing more harm than good these days. “Sitting in a rocking chair on a porch, watching the sun go up and down, is actually really bad for people,” Carle explained.
Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe welcomed its newest class when the UBRC Mirabella at ASU opened its doors in 2020. The 20-story continuing care retirement community (CCRC) sits right on the ASU campus, which puts older adults right at the center of the college culture. The proximity to campus and free classes provides a lifelong learning environment that appeals to many prospective senior residents.
“I was drawn to Mirabella for the opportunity to be able to take college classes and participate in academic life at the university,” said Karen Busch, 79, who moved to Mirabella in January 2021. She explained how she was attracted to the community for the appeal of continued education.
Busch has already taken two Spanish classes and an environmental science class called The Sustainable World, which appeals to her concerns about the environment. Busch described how being immersed in the intellectual culture at Mirabella is invigorating.
“Since so many people are taking courses or are involved in so many projects here on campus, the conversations among the residents are constantly stimulating,” Busch said.
Oak Hammock at the University of Florida is a UBRC in Gainesville. While residents have the ability to audit classes on the University of Florida campus, the on-site Institute for Learning in Retirement brings classes taught by university professors right to Oak Hammock.
Judy P., a retired medical social worker, has lived at Oak Hammock since 2013. She said she moved there to be in an environment where she could explore new academic areas — an opportunity she didn’t have when she was in college. She has taken horticulture classes and is interested in women’s studies courses.
“Those things weren’t taught when I was a student. Back then it was four guys to every one woman on the University of Florida campus. Girls had rules for dress and curfews that didn’t apply to boys. I sat on a committee to wipe out those separate-but-unequal gender rules my senior year, when women’s lib was just starting down South,” Judy P. recalled.
People don’t want to retire to what Carle calls an “elderly island.” UBRCs give residents the opportunity to join all-ages activities like sporting and performing arts events. UBRCs also support intergenerational connections that benefit both the seniors and students alike.
For example, Mirabella at ASU offers a pen-pal program to connect seniors and students. Pencie Culiver, a senior Mirabella resident and ASU alum, met ASU junior Deven Meyers in 2020 as part of that pen-pal program. The two have now developed a strong bond.
“I think Deven energizes me. She makes me think younger. When you’re surrounded by your peers, you begin to think old,” Culiver said.
Meyers also shared her feelings about the intergenerational friendship: “I would say it’s just like having another friend who has a lot more experiences and memories than I do, which is more fun and more to share.”
The ASU Musicians in Residence program offers four students from their School of Music the opportunity to live at Mirabella, where residents and college students often play music together.
“The experience has been nothing but positive. It is nothing like I thought it would be. We have an audience. We have neighbors. We have people to make music and interact with and be part of the community. The residents are welcoming and happy to have us,” reflected School of Music doctoral student Alfredo Bonilla, who has lived at Mirabella since the summer of 2021.
A tubing trip down the Ichetucknee River wasn’t exactly what she thought seniors would want to do, but she learned that they don’t see themselves as having limitations because of their age, recalled Catherine Osman, the activity coordinator and director of community services for Oak Hammock at the University of Florida.
UBRCs support an active lifestyle for seniors, with clubs and planned events of all kinds. For example, at Oak Hammock, 37% of its 800+ residents have an affiliation with the university via groups, academics, or activities.
“Each resident can choose to be as active in whatever you are interested in and/or start a new interest group if there is something you’d like to try. This is not an old folks’ home of just seniors sitting in their rocking chairs,” Judy P. explained.
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Accommodations at UBRCs differ greatly across communities, but they’re a far cry from the cramped dorm room of your college days.
While many of the senior living communities in Palo Alto, California, are upscale, Vi at Palo Alto — across from Stanford University — is hard to differentiate from a five-star resort. This community is complete with stylish apartments, luxury amenities and services, and beautifully manicured grounds.
On the banks of St. Joseph River, Holy Cross Village at Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana, shares its campus with Holy Cross College and is just a few blocks from the historic University of Notre Dame. From spacious one-bedroom apartments to 2,300-square-foot villas, Holy Cross Village certainly gives residents more comforts to enjoy than their student neighbors have at the university.
Like many retirement communities, UBRCs provide a number of amenities to help senior residents relax and unwind. Take a peek into just some of the on-site amenities at the 136-acre campus at Oak Hammock at the University of Florida:
With such a diversity of locations and community-specific offerings at UBRCs, costs can vary greatly. The typical UBRC care model is similar to a CCRC — an all-in-one senior living option offering multiple care types on one campus — so the pricing and contract options are comparable.
With distinct contract types and entrance fees, CCRCs offer a variety of ways to pay for services. Like at CCRCs, the varying costs at UBRCs can depend on which contract an individual chooses, and sometimes the family can receive a partial refund of entry fees upon early contract termination.
Check out some community pricing examples below. While these prices may induce shock in many, keep in mind that the up-front fees also cover future health care costs:
With the exception of senior living communities in Palo Alto like Vi at Palo Alto, most UBRC costs are comparable to CCRCs with entrance fees ranging from $100,000 to over $1 million, averaging around $300,000, according to research from Union Banc Investment Services.
In addition to a continuum of care, an active lifestyle, and intellectual stimulation in an intergenerational community, UBRCs may even improve a senior’s outlook on aging. Andrew Carle from Georgetown University reminded us of the counterclockwise study, conducted in 1981 by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer.
The study recreated a 1959 environment for a group of eight men in their 70s, as they spent five days immersed 22 years in the past. At the end of the five days, the men experienced measurable improvements in a number of physical and intellectual areas. This showed that, at some level, we may actually be as young as we feel, and the way our environment affects us is more important than we think.
Are you or a loved one considering a university-based retirement community? A Place for Mom’s local, experienced Senior Living Advisors can help you find UBRC options to fit your lifestyle — all at no cost to you.
Carle, A. (2006, September 1). University-based retirement communities: Criteria for success. iAdvance Senior Care.
Carle, A (2019, January 31). In later years your house may be bad for your health. Forbes.
Carle, A (2019, April 22). Can university retirement communities reverse aging?Forbes.
Carle, A. (2022, January 7). Personal interview.
Wade, A. (2022, January 9). Personal interview.