University-Affiliated Retirement Communities Present “Extreme Selling Point”

With occupancy levels well above the industry average and often running a wait list for admission, senior living communities with university affiliations are a hot commodity for those seeking lifelong learning and ever-higher education.

It is not to say, however, those affiliations are easy to establish.

Gaining buy-in from not only the university but also the community at large is one step in getting a university-affiliated community off the ground, but there are others as well such as joint programming, working through leadership structure and even zoning.

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When they do work, they really work, say university-affiliated senior living providers. Don’t expect them to appeal to older people looking for a country club lifestyle, but do expect them to be in high demand in the coming years as many people retire from academia but maintain a strong interest in learning.

“We are visited often by college administrators and developers about how this can work,” says Paula Panchuck, vice president and dean of Lasell Village, a senior community on the campus of Lasell College in Newton, Mass. “There are opportunities in terms of an intergenerational setting as well as the financial health for the retirement community and college. There are so many pluses.”

Among those pluses: Service contracts with the college, 24/7 operations, employment opportunities for students and an chance for residents to engage with young people as well as their own age peers.

“There are some beautiful synergies that bond us even more closely,” Panchuck says.

Established in 1991, Lasell Village, a free-standing community that is based on the school’s campus, is one model of university affiliation. But there are others, too, that might exist over several miles or more, still garnering the appeal of those seeking lifelong learning as a passion in retirement.

Kendal Corporation, which operates a dozen communities across eight states, counts a growing number of university affiliations among its properties. While they are not based in direct proximity to the schools, the relationship fosters a learning environment desired by residents including alumni, retired faculty and others that have a personal connection to the schools.

“More and more, people expect it,” says Sean Kelly, director for new business development at Kendal. “It’s an extreme selling point.”

But establishing the relationships can be challenging, Kelly says. In the case of Kendal’s affiliations with schools including Dartmouth, Oberlin and Cornell, often they begin with a single conversation among residents who have a particular affiliation.

“It’s not every administrator’s first thought,” Kelly says. “For some it is, but for many it’s not. Second, space is always an issue. You have to seek a college or university where there is capacity.”

Kendal residents can audit courses at the universities, the transportation for which the community provides.

Those involved in the partnerships say that both the residents as well as the students benefit strongly.

At Holy Cross Village at Notre Dame, for example, the community’s affiliated college, Holy Cross, ended up developing a gerontology consortium as a result of the relationship. Students can now take courses in the four-year school, which also welcomes residents to audit those same courses.

“It’s a great symbiotic relationship because the students can work with our residents and the residents work with them,” says Susan Griffin, marketing director for the Notre Dame, Indiana-based community. “The residents can also audit the courses in gerontology.”

Lasell Village counts more than 30 students on its personnel list and shares security services and others with the school, a benefit for both communities.

Likewise, Kendal credits mentoring and cultural programs like performances and eating groups as not only driving resident satisfaction, but also for potential fundraising platforms.

While there are issues to work through in the case of a shared campus such as zoning and gaining the buy in of both the college’s leadership as well as the community’s, the benefits are in high demand. Holy Cross Village at Notre Dame has maintained 100% occupancy and runs a wait list currently. Lasell counts occupancy between 95% and 100% at all times, and Kendal, too, sees higher levels well above the national average of 88.8%.

The community almost markets itself when such a strong emphasis is placed on continuing education, Kelly says. But establishing the communities doesn’t happen overnight.

“You have to acknowledge there’s no magic wand you can wave to make this happen,” he says. “Many people come to Kendal and say: ‘You’ve done this a dozen times. What’s the recipe?’ That’s not really how it works. It tends to be very organic. The process is very educational and the relationships have to be brought along.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

This article is sponsored by the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) as part of its efforts to advance excellence and explore topics impacting the future of senior living. For more information about ALFA, visit www.alfa.org.

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