While it’s no secret that universities and senior living organizations can and do work together, challenges such as slow development timelines, mismatching priorities and miscommunication can make executing on these partnerships easier said than done.
However big the challenges are, the opportunity for the senior living industry is even bigger, senior living consultant and adjunct faculty at Georgetown University Andrew Carle said during a panel discussion at Senior Housing News’ BUILD event in Chicago on May 8.
“Most of the barriers to entry are on the academic side,” Carle said. “But if you pull this off, you’re the number one choice in the market for the next 50 years.”
Instead of focusing on their differences, senior living providers and academic institutions should try to break down those barriers to entry.
“The biggest thing we can ask of them is to educate themselves on how they can expedite this process,” he explained. “It’s still going to require patience.”
While there are a few ways to do that, perhaps the best way is to help universities see why senior living communities are a natural fit for new development and partnerships instead of adding luxury campus amenities or other bells and whistles.
Enrollment and employment
One way senior living providers can stand out with universities is to convince them that working with a senior living community can help boost sagging enrollment.
“I had a university president tell me, ‘My enrollment is going to go down X% in five years,’” Carle said. “You can either hope people start giving birth to babies who start college in five years, or you can recycle some of your old customers.”
Anne Doyle, president of Lasell Village on the campus of Lasell College in Newton, Massachusetts, agrees with the concept.
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“They need a diversified revenue stream, and they’re enrollment based, just like we are,” Doyle said. “I think we have to make it easier for the boards of colleges and universities to understand that moving fast [on senior living projects] is in their best interest and think about a diversified opportunity.”
And, senior living providers can leverage university services such as IT, security, facilities and education. At Lasell Village, residents sign a contract that mandates they must fulfill 450 hours of education credits.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for us to help those universities by paying for a lot of services that they provide,” Doyle said.
In addition to benefiting student recruitment, working with a senior living provider can also make a university more attractive to prospective employees, according to Deb Reardanz, president and CEO of Clark-Lindsey, a senior living community adjacent to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois.
“Colleges, just like us, are looking for workforce and retention of their faculty,” Reardanz said. “And nowadays, it is just as important to have a place for faculty to stay in town and retire or continue their work there, or come to town with their aging parents and know that there’s a place where they are going to thrive, as well.”
The senior living industry needs more workers, and colleges need jobs for their graduating students. By that logic, co-locating a senior living community on or near a college campus could help solve both problems.
“We talk nonstop about [the need for] labor resources, but here you’ve got a college kid who wants to do an internship or volunteer or just needs a side job to make a few bucks,” Carle said.
And involving students could even help improve the way a senior living company operates. For example, Clark-Lindsey has an unpaid internship program that draws from the University of Illinois and other local educational institutions that helped circulate fresh new ideas into the organization.
“Those interns make us better,” Reardanz explained. “So, when we stay committed to supporting their education, our organization is evolving faster than it would without them.”
Senior living providers and colleges often use the same service providers for food and utilities, making them more ideal partners.
“Every university in this country either gets their food from Sysco or Sodexo. Well, so do we,” Carle said. “And there are lots of ways where we can work together that we haven’t even thought about.”