If a recent graduation ceremony sparked a wish to be back on campus yourself, you might seriously consider acting on it: College towns make great places to retire. Retirees can take advantage of the public resources a university provides simply by moving into town, or take the next step by moving to facilities such as The Village at Penn State that combine a retirement community with all that a college campus has to offer.
"Today's retirees and the baby boomer retirees want three things," says Professor Andrew Carle, director of the Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University. "They want active, they want intellectually stimulating, and they want intergenerational retirement environments. Well, I've just described a college campus."
Retirees get access to cultural and sporting events hosted by the university, and may even get a chance to attend classes for free. They're constantly surrounded by young people, which Carle emphasizes as "a lynch-pin issue": working with and around a younger demographic can make you feel, well, more like a kid. (This common wisdom may be backed up by science, too). Some established facilities actively promote intergenerational interaction through mentorship and volunteer programs.
Other benefits of retiring to a college town, beyond the campus: They often boast a low cost of living and a thriving downtown. If you think about it, what retirees are looking for is not too different from what makes 20-somethings happy (okay, maybe with the exception of the downtown scene. But a good, affordable meal, for example, transcends the generational divide). College towns are usually pedestrian-friendly, and public transportation is typically abundant with buses and campus shuttles for students who didn't bring a car to school. That's ideal for seniors who will in all likelihood outlive their driver's license.
Quality health care provided by teaching hospitals is also a major draw.
Interestingly, the environment itself may stimulate retirees to feel a little healthier, too. Carle points to the "counter-clockwise study" conducted by Professor Ellen Langer of Harvard University in the 1970s, which placed elderly men in an environment reminiscent of their youth. She found that the body can remember and "act younger" in response to these environmental cues. BBC magazine more recently informally replicated the study, and discovered similar results. So returning to an alma mater, or even just somewhere that kind of looks or smells like it (eau du fraternity, anyone?) can tap into this phenomenon as well.
Buyer beware, however, especially when considering a retirement community using the name of a college or university. Carle has composed a list of five criteria retirees should look for, as a part of his "University-Based Retirement Community" model:
- Proximity: Some facilities aren't actually close enough for retirees to really take advantage of the college or university.
- Formalized programming linking the facility with its affiliated college: Carle warns against the "stranger on campus" scenario, where retirees aren't really interacting with students.
- A documented financial relationship between the university and the senior housing provider: So the two institutions are invested in each others' futures, and have a real incentive to interact.
- A documented percentage of community residents with real ties to the college: Carle believes communities should strive to include former deans, professors, and alumni to add to a sense of connectedness with the university.
- A continuum of care: Retirees should look for a full continuum of independent and assisted living, so they don't have to uproot themselves when they grow frailer and need more assistance.
Check out the slideshow below for some great college towns to retire to, and if you don't see your favorite listed, let us know in the comments!