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The new senior class: Boomers on campus
'University-linked retirement communities' unite seniors, colleges

As baby boomers head into their retirement years, college-town community developers and campus administrators are betting that an increasing contingent of seniors will opt for the classroom over the shuffleboard court.

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Experts estimate about 50 university-linked or college-linked retirement communities now exist on or near university or college campuses, and another 50 or so are in various stages of development. As part of the deal, residents get the same perks available to students and faculty, from taking classes and using the library to attending concerts and lectures at little or no charge.

Enthusiasts say the communities benefit everyone. Residents enjoy the intellectual and social stimuli of a college town. The institutions profit both financially and culturally. Students stand to gain from mentoring and more on-campus job opportunities in such areas as dining hall or transportation services. Some communities have become federal work-study sites where students can learn about aging and at the same time earn compensation toward their tuitions.

"This new model of retirement holds great potential for giving older adults new and meaningful roles and opportunities for personal growth," says Tien-Chien Tsao, a principal of Collegiate Retirement Community Consultants and a senior research associate with the National Center on Housing and Living Arrangements for Older Adults at the University of Michigan. "It definitely will become one major alternative that the baby-boomer generation will embrace."

Anyone excited by the idea of going back to college permanently needs to do research before re-enrolling. The communities' structures vary. Some are only for independent living; others offer continuing care, allowing residents to age in place at on-site, assisted-living facilities and long-term-care centers. Those choices affect costs significantly. And a few communities have run into financial jams.

Lifelong learning
University life isn't everyone's idea of utopia, of course. But promoters say the communities can be an attractive alternative for lifelong learners, people actively interested in community involvement and cultural pursuits, as well as those with university affiliations.

"In many cases, communities in university towns are affinity-based," says John Krout, director of the Gerontology Institute at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. "People moving there have things in common."

Krout says a 10-year joint study he spearheaded with researchers at Ithaca and nearby Cornell University showed that many of the first residents to join surrounding university-linked retirement communities had a Cornell connection. Still, he says, the study found residents, overall, had many reasons to move to one.

"Those who moved into the one continuing-care community, Kendal in Ithaca, were primarily looking to ensure that they would have long-term care provided," he says. "They did not want to have to move to a nursing facility in a moment of crisis or depend on family. To a lesser extent, they wanted to get away from the pressures of homeownership."

At the other end of the economic scale in Ithaca is a high-rise that offers low-income housing. There, Krout says, residents were "younger, but also poorer and less healthy. They were there because it was the best they could get, given their limited resources."

Next: "At first they were not exclusively college-related."
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