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!

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  • Boise, Idaho

    Home of <a href="http://www.boisestate.edu/" target="_hplink">Boise State University</a>, Boise made number three on CNN Money's <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2011/real_estate/1109/gallery.best_places_retire.moneymag/3.html" target="_hplink">"25 Best Places To Retire"</a> list for its cultural scene, <a href="http://www.realidaho.com/boise_area/weather/" target="_hplink">surprisingly moderate climate</a>, and access to outdoor activities. They also ranked it among their <a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/real_estate/1201/gallery.turnaround-housing-markets/6.html" target="_hplink">"Top 10 Turnaround Towns," economically</a> -- so it may be worth investing in as home values appreciate.

  • Claremont, California

    Claremont offers <a href="http://www.ci.claremont.ca.us/seniors.cfm" target="_hplink">extensive senior services</a> including the "Claremont Avenues for Lifelong Learning" program, which allows 60+ residents to audit classes at the Claremont Colleges for free. And that sunny California climate isn't bad either.

  • Fort Collins, Colorado

    Fort Collins, home of Colorado State University, boasts a "small town feeling with the big city attributes that baby boomers crave," says <a href="http://bestboomertowns.com/towns/fort_collins_colorado/" target="_hplink">bestboomertowns.com</a>. Natural attributes abound, too, for retirees who like to ski, or are at least willing to weather snowy winters.

  • 'The Triangle' (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill)

    RealAge.com ranks the home of Duke, University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University among its <a href="http://www.realage.com/anti-aging/25-best-cities-to-live-in-7#fbIndex8" target="_hplink">"25 Best Cities For Staying Young"</a> for its "lively, optimistic, and socially connected population." In 2010, the Carolinas overtook Florida and Arizona as the top places to retire, a Del Webb study found: <a href="http://www.topretirements.com/blog/great-towns/how-north-carolina-climbed-over-florida-as-favorite-retirement-state.html/" target="_hplink">Topretirements.com cites lower taxes and cost of living, mild climate and promixity to beaches, among other reasons</a>.

  • Clemson, South Carolina

    Clemson, SC with its reasonably priced homes, large university, lakeside location, and proximity to mountains and waterfalls also boasts a newly constructed million-dollar <a href="http://www.clemson.edu/centers-institutes/olli/" target="_hplink">Osher Life-Long Learning Institute</a>.

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico

    Home of the <a href="http://www.unm.edu/" target="_hplink">University of New Mexico</a>, Albuquerque boasts great year-round climate: warm, dry and sunny. It's not as walkable as retirees might prefer, but for the boomer who wants to stay active you can't beat the Sandia Mountains, as <a href="http://www.topretirements.com/reviews/New_Mexico/Albuquerque.html" target="_hplink">Topretirements.com notes.</a>

  • Ithaca, NY

    Ithaca, located on the shores of Cayuga Lake, New York, is home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College. The area is known for its <a href="http://www.topretirements.com/reviews/New_York/Ithaca.html" target="_hplink">many vineyards and farms</a> and is surrounded by rolling hills with pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. A <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/college-towns-draw-those-seeking-active-retirement-162816022.html" target="_hplink">recent partnership</a> between Ithaca College and a few nearby retirement communities to promote intergenerational learning has opened the doors for local seniors to audit classes and attend plays and concerts on campus.

  • Princeton, NJ

    Princeton, New Jersey is a quaint and picturesque town <a href="http://www.topretirements.com/reviews/New_Jersey/Princeton.html" target="_hplink">featuring graceful streets</a>, first-class shopping and top-rated restaurants. If you can handle the high state taxes and housing prices, the cultural opportunities in Princeton are superb because of the university and its proximity to both New York City and Philadelphia. In 2005, CNN/Money <a href="http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2005/snapshots/40706.html" target="_hplink">rated Princeton 15th</a> on its list of the 100 best places to live in the U.S.

  • Williamstown, MA

    Set in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, Williamstown, home to Williams College, is a <a href="http://www.topretirements.com/reviews/Massachusetts/Williamstown.html" target="_hplink">delightful town</a> nestled in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains. Williamstown is a sought-after retirement community for these reasons and for its extremely rich cultural environment. The famed Clark Art Institute, the Williams College Museum of Art, and the Williamstown Theatre Festival are all located in this cozy northeastern community.

  • Asheville, NC

    The city of Asheville, North Carolina <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/college-towns-draw-those-seeking-active-retirement-162816022.html" target="_hplink">offers transplants</a> majestic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, relatively moderate temperatures year-round and first-class medical facilities. The University of North Carolina at Asheville was one of the first major schools to offer an on-campus center dedicated to making retirement a fulfilling stage of life: The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, founded in 1988, is <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/college-towns-draw-those-seeking-active-retirement-162816022.html" target="_hplink">consistently ranked</a> as one of the best facilities of its kind.

  • Charlottesville, VA

    Charlottesville, Virginia, <a href="http://www.topretirements.com/reviews/Virginia/Charlottesville.html" target="_hplink">is home to the stately and picturesque</a> University of Virginia, founded by President Thomas Jefferson. The town offers a tree-lined charm that, combined with its location at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, makes it easy to see why so many active adults are planning to retire in Charlottesville.

  • Ann Arbor, MI

    One of America's most famous college towns, Ann Arbor, Michigan <a href="http://www.topretirements.com/reviews/Michigan/Ann_Arbor.html" target="_hplink">is home to world famous University of Michigan</a>. The city has strict zoning regulations that make life difficult for developers but result in an extremely pleasant small-town environment. Downtown Ann Arbor has music stores, sidewalk cafes, bars, bookstores, shops and an array of people from surrounding Michigan areas that descend on the town each weekend. For these reasons, many Midwesterners and University of Michigan alumni choose Ann Arbor as their retirement destination. (Just find friends to visit in the south when winter arrives.)

  • Gainesville, FL

    Gainesville, Florida, home to the University of Florida, <a href="http://www.topretirements.com/reviews/Florida/Gainesville.html" target="_hplink">has a reputation</a> for being an inexpensive, lively college town with a Southern charm and knack for attracting recent retirees. The University offers local seniors access to college classes, cultural opportunities and world-class medical facilities, as well as priority access to Gators football games.

  • Eugene, OR

    Eugene, Oregon, home to the University of Oregon, <a href="http://www.topretirements.com/reviews/Oregon/Eugene.html" target="_hplink">is famous for its extensive park system</a>, which includes many bike and running trails. Access to the Cascade Mountain range with its unlimited hiking, skiing and outdoor opportunities, as well as a thriving and eclectic arts scene, make Eugene a favored destination for retirees.

  • Athens, GA

    Athens is a college<a href="http://www.topretirements.com/reviews/Georgia/Athens.html" target="_hplink"> town in the hills of northeastern Georgia</a>. Nearby University of Georgia has helped to create an unusually liberal community with a thriving artistic, literary, musical and intellectual scene. Athens consistently ranks among the nation's best towns for relocation and retirement, with new residents drawn to the moderate climate, convenience to Atlanta and world-class hospitals and medical facilities associated with the University.

  • State College, PA

    State College, home to Penn State University, has long attracted retirees with <a href="http://www.topretirements.com/reviews/Pennsylvania/State_College.html" target="_hplink">an abundance of shops, restaurants and cultural amenities in the area</a>. People over 55 comprise the fastest growing segment of the town's population and the Village at Penn State, a <a href="http://www.villageatpennstate.com/university-connection" target="_hplink">renowned continuing care residence</a> in the heart of State College, offers residents access to premium care as well as free admission to University classes and priority access to Penn State football games.