Senior housing experts have long touted university partnerships as the solution to several frustrating industry challenges: staffing shortages, occupancy headaches, unoriginal resident programming.
Despite the general agreement that university partnerships do benefit senior housing providers, though, it can be difficult to ensure their ultimate success.
That’s why, at some senior housing communities, choosing whether to partner with universities—and what those partnerships look like—is actually up to independent living residents.
“We don’t have staff that create activities for independent living residents,” Kendal Corp. COO Judy Braun tells Senior Housing News of Kendal’s approach. Instead, the independent living programming at every Kendal community—along with all of the programming related to lifelong learning—is arranged by Kendal residents themselves.
“I think the fact that our model is one that is resident-driven allows it to be very creative,” Braun says.
Each Kendal community, naturally, approaches its lifelong learning component a bit differently. At The Admiral at the Lake, a Kendal CCRC located on the north side of Chicago, one woman—Admiral resident Toni Smith—is leading the charge.
‘He leapt on it’
Smith moved into the Admiral in February 2014 and quickly found that what was passing as “lifelong learning” programming there wasn’t meeting her standards.
“I got here and they had a program for lifelong learning, but they weren’t learning anything,” Smith tells SHN.
Consequently, Smith joined The Admiral at the Lake’s Lifelong Learning Committee, and ultimately worked her way up to the position of committee chair. Smith knew that she wanted to find a college or university partner for the CCRC, but the task proved more difficult than she anticipated—especially given the Admiral’s relatively close proximity to several prominent institutions of higher learning.
“Here, I’ve got 35 colleges and nothing going on,” Smith says of her thoughts at the time, noting that colleges like Loyola University and Northwestern University are only a few miles away, at most.
Then, through a mutual acquaintance, Smith was introduced to Fred Beuttler, the associate dean of liberal arts programs at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.
“Basically, it’s all in who you know,” Smith admits.
After explaining that she’d like to bring Graham School courses to the Admiral, Smith asked if Beuttler would be interested in partnering.
“He leapt on it,” Smith says. “They’d never done anything like that before, so we decided to try it out.”
Good for business, good for residents
As part of the partnership, Smith asks the Graham School whether they have any current course offerings that can be shortened to a duration of four weeks, or turned into a seminar. The Graham School comes back to her with a list of options, and she surveys Kendal residents to find out which class topics would be interesting to them.
In 2017, this resulted in the CCRC hosting two, four-week classes and four seminars. At the Admiral, these classes draw “the intellectually curious who can stay up until 8:30 or 9:00 at night,” Smith says.
Independent living residents at the Admiral regularly contribute to a fund for programming, and Smith uses a portion of those funds to pay the Graham School. She also charges residents “a little bit” to take a four-week class because she “wants them to come for all four weeks.”
“It’s $40 for a four-week class, which would have cost $300 to $400 if they’d taken it at the Graham School,” Smith says.
Currently, Admiral residents are enjoying a course on Islam in the West. The course is being taught by a University of Chicago PhD student, who the residents took pride in “coaching.”
“The first time, she read from her notes and she was reading stuff that she put up on the screen,” Smith explains. “We coached her on doing the slides better, she was glad to get that information and she’s done much better since.”
The experience has been a winning one for everyone involved, Smith says.
“Post-docs and graduate students need the experience of doing lesson plans and teaching,” Smith says, adding that the Graham School has found that the partnership is “good for their business because liberal arts is of diminishing interest to people, and they’re getting kind of squeezed out by [business school] courses.”
Click here to access the complete report, which takes a deep dive into the topic of university partnerships in senior living—from the successes to the failures—and reveals why creating strong ties with a university is one of the smartest moves a senior housing provider can make.
Written by Mary Kate Nelson