Andrew Carle, an assistant professor and founding director of the program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, explains the phenomenon. "Boomers came of age in the dorms. They still go to the games, wear the sweatshirts, and love the idea of continuing education. People feel younger when they are surrounded by 20-year-olds. And they want the perks that come with college life: theater, classes, guest speakers, the library, even hanging out. This is the only model community that is intergenerational by definition. To me, it's the future of senior housing."
Numbers alone seem to support Carle’s opinion. Although AARP surveys have found that the vast majority of Baby Boomers don’t plan to move out of their homes or away from their communities when they retire, 10 percent of those aged sixty-plus actually do so. Considering the fact that there are 78 million Boomers, perhaps as many as eight million of them would consider a different lifestyle—including UBRCs.
Noting that there are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the U. S., Professor Carle concludes that college- and university-affiliated housing "has the potential to be literally the future of senior housing in this country."
Some of these properties offer assisted living housing, although most, according to AARP, are senior apartments or continuing care retirement communities. The appeal, of course, is the availability of college coursework, as well as such campus amenities as computer labs, fitness facilities, sporting events, and medical and dental services.
Here’s an example. Oak Hammock is a 270-unit independent living senior project situated on 136 acres at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Residents are issued campus identification cards that allow them unlimited use of campus facilities and activities. Oak Hammock’s Institute of Learning, a cooperative venture that involves the university and Elderhostel, provides continuing education coursework taught by university professors and experts in particular fields of study. Classes are held on the project campus, and are free to residents. Gainesville residents aged 55 and older are also eligible to attend.
The Institute of Learning offers classes in art and music appreciation, literature, creative writing, current events, philosophy, and many others, all of which have no prerequisites, tests or grades—even homework is optional. “The Role of the Media in the 21st Century,” “Ancient Peoples of the Western Hemisphere,” “Why Mathematics Really Does Count,’” “Energy for the Future,” and “Africa: A Continent in Change” are representative courses.
The 22,000-square foot, state-of-the-art, health club is outfitted with two heated pools, massage and physical therapy facilities, and is staffed by graduate students who serve as instructors and personal trainers. Wellness programs are available at the facility as well. There’s a 70,000-square foot Commons Area that features a theater venue, auditorium, art studios, and a business and computer center.
Oak Hammock boasts about its elegant dining, which is available in formal and casual settings. There’s also a sports bar and grill, and an ice cream parlor. There’s a pet park and an on-site veterinary clinic that provides routing checkups and pet-sitting. Transportation services and customized group travel packages and programs are provided. There are walking trails, gardens and lakes. Housekeeping services are available, and 24-hour security is provided, with gate-controlled community access.
In addition, the project offers a “Life Care” guarantee, which is a lifetime contract that provides unlimited access to assisted living, skilled nursing and memory support as these services become necessary. The Life Care program includes on-site wellness clinics and a rehabilitation center, all designed to help residents remain independent as long as possible.
College students also benefit by working on-site at UBRCs, or by serving in internships. Universities provide the communities with one-on-one training conducted by computer science majors, for instance, or ceramics or painting workshops taught by art students.
George Mason’s Carle, an unabashed fan of these projects, sums up the appeal of university-based retirement centers. "Schools find additional employment and work-related experiences for their students and maintain that connection between alumni and faculty," he said. "Residents get an intergenerational, active, intellectually stimulating environment. It's a win-win."