We have often heard praise for the benefits of intergenerational housing developments, where older people live alongside families and young workers/students. We have heard criticism of retirement villages, where older people can be cut off from younger generations. And, what about the call for life-long learning? There is a way of addressing all these issues in one stroke.
The answer may be University-Based Retirement Communities (UBRCs).
These are housing developments which look like retirement villages – see the photo below -but which are situated on or near universities or other tertiary education establishments. There are now well over 100 UBRCs in the USA.
The characteristics which define successful UBRCs, are set out by Andrew Carle in Forbes Magazine
- Proximity to the campus
- A range of activities to encourage intergenerational diversity
- Senior housing offering a continuum of care, from independent to assisted living
- Support from alumni and employees of the university
- Sound financial planning between a senior housing provider and the university.
The extent to which they are integrated with the university varies, but there is the opportunity for older people to have access to –
- Well-equipped hospital facilities (for example, where there is a medical school)
- Gyms and sporting facilities
- Exercise and dance studios and theatre spaces
- Education at various levels, with a wide range of subjects.
UBRCs can also offer opportunities for older people to volunteer, for example in coaching or mentoring students, as well as helping in libraries, etc. And, in their turn, they may be able to receive support from student volunteers or from paid services, not to mention access to food and retail outlets often found on campuses.
It becomes a symbiotic relationship — older generations are offered an opportunity to use their wisdom and experience to guide and empower youth and youth have an opportunity to expose older adults to scientific advances and novel life experiences.
Other services and opportunities provided by UBRCs in the USA include memory clinics; WiFi and free computer classes; lessons in golf, swimming and other sports from college athletes; Skype lessons from student volunteers, and multimedia journalism.
The benefits for the university include attracting a broader student base, expanding the audience for sporting and cultural events and offering internship and work experience opportunities for students studying things like gerontology, nursing, nutrition, public health management and physiotherapy. There is also the opportunity for bequests through strong links with retirees.
There are drawbacks of UBRCs. They include the cost to residents, which may be high. And the reaction from students – as outlined below.
An example from Georgia 
Berry College, a private liberal arts institution, with about 2,000, mostly traditional-age students, has leased land to a non-profit organisation for a retirement complex –The Spires. The college provided seed funding for the complex, which will offer independent and assisted-living housing, as well as a continuing care facility.
The Spires will house 350 seniors and will be only a short distance from the main campus. Residents will be welcome to roam the college’s grounds, hang out in the student centre, attend football games or concerts and take classes for free, space permitting.
There were concerns from Berry students at first – that it would alter campus dynamics, as though they would always be under the watchful eye of grandparents. Some squirmed at the thought of white-haired retirees filling the stands at football games or becoming fixtures on the couches in the student center.
But there are also upsides: students will be offered paid work and work experience at The Spires. Nursing majors could help the facility’s nurses; marketing and accounting majors could get practical experience. Students will have opportunities to network with residents and share real-world insights about jobs and career paths. This helped to calm most concerns.
The Spires, a retirement housing complex, under construction at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. It’s scheduled to open in 2020 and many spaces are already reserved.
UBRCs have reached Australia
Much closer to home is the development of UBRCs in Australia. There was a very recent headline in The Senior – James Cook, La Trobe universities to open retirement village, aged care, on campuses.
James Cook University is planning retirement villages and an aged care facility alongside student accommodation in its Douglas campus (Townsville) and the Townsville Hospital. The 10-to-20-year project is expected to be home to 8000 residents and 1300 students.
In Melbourne, La Trobe University has plans for a $400 million healthcare hub with aged care at its Bundoora campus. This will include a 240-bed aged care facility, a 125-bed private hospital, childcare centres and clinic facilities. There are also plans for residential aged care and independent living in the development. The project will create employment and educational opportunities for students and staff as well as improved access to health services for local residents.
Could we see the major names in retirement village development in New Zealand contemplating similar developments with our universities and polytechnics (and vice versa)?
Andrew Carle – Can University Retirement Communities Reverse Aging? Forbes Apr 22, 2019. Carle is a healthcare and retirement/senior housing executive who was a founding director of the first UBRC.
 At Lasell Village in Maine residents are required to complete 450 hours of learning and fitness activity a year, either inside or outside the classroom.
 Matt Kempner, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jun 6, 2019.
Thanks for an excellent summary of a development that thrills me. Integration with the universities doesn’t need to be superficial. Bring it on!