Thinking Retirement? Consider Going "Old School"

August 14, 2023
Rapidly growing university-based retirement communities offer opportunities for seniors to stimulate their minds, but it's important to understand the upsides and downsides.

Baby Boomers are retiring in increasing numbers and looking for ways to stay busy, engaged, and intellectually stimulated in their golden years. "Many people are seeking a more 'active' retirement, and retirement is lasting longer because people are living longer," says Susan Hirshman, director of wealth management at Schwab Wealth Advisory, Inc. 

Is it any wonder that a growing number of U.S. colleges and universities have partnered with retirement communities to create residential facilities for seniors on or near their campuses? So-called university-based retirement communities (UBRCs) generally offer a mix of senior-living amenities (assisted living, memory support, skilled nursing care, social activities) and the perks of an educational institution (access to classes, lectures, libraries, and museums). 

Many older people want to spend their retirement in the company of other generations, Susan adds. Part of the appeal of a UBRC stems from beliefs that if you're around "life"—young people, in particular—"your intellectual health tends to be enhanced," she says.

Different UBRCs are more or less closely connected to their associated colleges or universities. Some are close to campus and provide many learning opportunities; others are more like a typical retirement facility that happens to be near a college campus. According to Andrew Carle, a Georgetown University professor and senior living consultant, there are five criteria that can determine the success of a UBRC:

  • Programming: Formalized programming between the university and the retirement community create "intergenerational diversity," he says.
  • Proximity: Ideally, the seniors' residence should be within a mile of the campus, "or you won't likely feel like you're on the campus," Carle says. Proximity and walkability are important because "both 20-year-old college students and 80-year-old retirees are commonly without cars."
  • Senior housing and health services: The UBRC should have "a full continuum of care and senior housing services, including independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and dementia care," Carle says. When evaluating a UBRC, determine whether the medical care provided fulfills your needs and is up to your standards. The facility should be accredited by CARF International (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities).
  • An alumni "base": In order to maintain close ties with the university community and culture, it's good for at least 10% of residents to be former students, faculty members, or employees.
  • Sound financial planning: For legal, financial, and practical reasons, the university shouldn't operate the UBRC. "However, there should be some financial relationship that ties the two together, because this gives both an incentive to help each other succeed and thrive," Carle says. Chris Kawashima, a senior research analyst at the Schwab Center for Financial Research, says you should acquaint yourself with the financial health of a prospective UBRC (or any retirement community) before signing up. 

The more of these criteria a UBRC satisfies, the likelier it is to be successful. Carle expects UBRCs to be among the fastest-growing types of retirement communities for the next 10 to 15 years. But of the approximately 70 to 80 U.S. UBRCs that claim some kind of connection to a university, Carle estimates only a dozen or so meet all five of his criteria for "full" UBRC status.

How your Schwab Wealth Advisor can help

Your Schwab Wealth Advisor can discuss retirement lifestyle options with you and connect you with estate planning and insurance specialists to help inform your decisions.

Your Schwab Wealth Advisor can discuss retirement lifestyle options with you and connect you with estate planning and insurance specialists to help inform your decisions.

How much does it cost?

As with some other types of retirement communities, up-front costs for a UBRC can be considerable. Typically, UBRCs require a one-time entrance fee of anywhere from $200,000 to more than $1 million—depending on the location, living quarters, programming, and benefits offered—which acts as a down payment for your residence and future care. Additionally, there are monthly fees ranging from $1,800 to $10,000 for dining, housekeeping, and other amenities, according to research by AssistedLiving.org. By comparison, the median monthly cost for an assisted living facility was about $4,500 in 2021, according to a study by Genworth.1

When you’re looking at a UBRC, ask whether fees could increase every year (and by how much). How much of the entrance fee can be returned to you if you change your mind or paid out to a designated beneficiary? Are you confident the community will remain a solvent for the duration of your residency?

What are the amenities?

Many UBRCs offer goodies you won't find at other retirement communities—including recreational activities, learning opportunities, and even access to care through affiliated medical or dental schools. For example, in Oak Hammock, a community on the University of Florida's Gainesville campus, residents have access to multiple school facilities—such as its libraries, fitness centers and pools, and private golf course—as well as the chance to audit courses and attend college sporting events. Amenities in these communities can vary and aren't always included in your fees, so make sure to confirm what's covered.

Some schools even have "adopt a grandparent" or mentorship programs that connect students and seniors, Susan says. "Part of the appeal is being around the energy of young people," she says. "Every school is different, and you have to do your homework."

What are the drawbacks?

If you went to college a long time ago, you might find some things have changed–but a lot probably hasn't. Young people can still be as loud, messy, and disruptive as you remember. Depending on a UBRC's proximity to the school's dorms, student apartments, and fraternities, this living arrangement may not work for seniors who value a good night's sleep. To ensure it's right for you, you might consider testing the waters by staying for a few nights before making any commitments.

Still, a UBRC is worth considering, Susan says, if you want to stay young at both heart and mind. "Every time I go to a college, I get a feeling of hopefulness. I love being on campus and I love to learn," Susan says. " I studied business in college and grad school, so there's something exciting about the idea of retiring while learning about art history or other subjects I missed out on."

1Genworth, 2021 Cost of Care Survey, genworth.com.

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision. 

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed. 

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.

All corporate names and market data shown above are for illustrative purposes only and are not a recommendation, offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy any security. Supporting documentation for any claims or statistical information is available upon request.

Schwab Wealth Advisory™ ("SWA") is a non‐discretionary investment advisory program sponsored by Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. ("Schwab"). Schwab Wealth Advisory, Inc. ("SWAI") is a Registered Investment Adviser and provides portfolio management for the SWA program. Schwab and SWAI are affiliates and are subsidiaries of The Charles Schwab Corporation. 

0823-3C90