Acts Retirement-Life Communities Forges Wilmington University Partnership for Workforce

In recent years, large senior living operators have struck partnerships with universities and invested serious money to extend educational opportunities to employees. In the latest example of this trend, one of the largest continuing care retirement community (CCRC) operators in the United States is expanding its education offerings to employees.

Nonprofit provider Acts Retirement-Life Communities recently announced a partnership with Wilmington University, a private university in New Castle, Delaware, to offer employees the opportunity to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees via online courses. The partnership is through Acts Corporate University, the company’s training and development department.

This partnership solidifies an informal relationship between the two companies. Acts has three campuses in northern Delaware — Cokesbury Village in Hockessin, Manor House in Seaford, and Country House in Wilmington. Employees at these communities have earned their bachelors and masters degrees through Wilmington University.

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Acts was looking to expand its university partnerships, and believed establishing a relationship between the two companies would be a natural fit, JoAnn Hartmann, managing director of Acts Corporate University, told Senior Housing News.

Based in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, Acts Retirement-Life Communities manages 26 continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) in nine states, totaling 9,592 units. It is the third-largest company on the 2020 list of the 200 largest nonprofit senior housing providers compiled by investment bank Ziegler and industry group LeadingAge.

Persistent workforce challenges have plagued the senior living industry for years, with recruitment and retention being among the most daunting challenges as providers try to recover from effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s possible that offering education benefits could help improve turnover.

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Discussions started when Bridget Bernhardt, director of learning and development at Acts, connected with Wilmington University Director of Partnerships Jeff Martino. What followed was an extensive interview process between the two companies. Acts was able to share its passion for professional development with Wilmington. What convinced Wilmington to agree to a partnership, however, was Acts’ approach to tuition reimbursement.

Employees pursuing degrees through Acts Corporate University receive substantial tuition reimbursement, depending on the type of degree earned, Bernhardt told SHN. Employees earning associate’s degrees receive up to $4,000 in reimbursed tuition per year. Bachelor’s degree candidates are eligible for up to $5,000 in tuition reimbursement annually, and graduate degree candidates receive as much as $6,000 in reimbursement.

Coupled with a 10% discount on tuition with Acts’ university partners, this results in significant savings. This applies to employees completing their degrees online, as well as those attending courses on campus. Currently Wilmington is closed to on-campus classes due to Covid-19, but that can change as the pandemic gradually subsides.

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“They had a pretty rigorous process of interviewing us to see how we valued tuition reimbursement, as well as professional development,” Bernhardt said. “They don’t give a discount to everyone who talks to them.”

Wilmington offers degrees in over 200 fields. The Acts Corporate University partnership focuses on programs that have a bearing on the provider’s operational model including nursing, human resources, health care, technology and hospitality. And there will be future opportunities for employees at Acts’ Delaware campuses to take classes in person, at work, with Wilmington University instructors.

“We have a beautiful education center right here on campus, so that we can try to congregate safely as soon as we’re allowed to,” Bernhardt said.

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