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Retirees Return to Campus Living
They get everything but the exams: football games, lectures, concerts and beautiful surroundings. Many universities now offer on-campus senior housing communities that make life enjoyable.
By Melinda Fulmer
Jim Davis lives on campus at Penn State, attends football and basketball games and works out daily at its track. But there's little chance you'd mistake him for an undergrad.
Rather, the 75-year-old alum and his wife JoAnne are residents in a new on-campus senior housing community called The Village. They're among a growing group of active seniors returning to their alma maters, lured by fond college memories, good hospitals and the proximity of rich entertainment and cultural events.
For the Davises, living in The Village is sort of like living in a dormitory, but with nicer furnishings and a bit more privacy. The Village's 212 residents take exercise classes together, dine in groups at its on-site restaurant and attend lectures, concerts and other events on campus. They even walk in Penn State's homecoming parade. "We are kind of like a big family here," says JoAnne Davis. "That's important."
About 60 college- or university-linked senior housing projects have been built in the U.S., many at such prestigious schools as the University of Michigan, Stanford, Dartmouth, Notre Dame and Oberlin. An additional 30 are under construction or in some stage of planning, says Kathryn L. Brod, senior vice president of Milwaukee, Wis.-based Ziegler Senior Living Finance.
Developers are betting that today's seniors and tomorrow's baby boomer retirees don't want to be isolated in age-restricted communities, such as the Sun Cities of years past. Instead, says elder-care expert Marion Somers, Ph.D., they want to become a more integral part of the mainstream community. "This is an age group that doesn't consider itself old," Somers says. "They want that liveliness and energy that comes from being around younger people."
And many, says Brod, don't have any qualms about giving up the family home for a more maintenance-free arrangement.
Big deposits, monthly fees
The costs of these living arrangements are not insignificant, however. The affluent residents at most of these so-called continuing-care communities pay six-figure deposits for an assurance that they will be taken care of after they can no longer take care of themselves.
Each resident also pays a monthly fee that can run up to $3,000 or $4,000 for dining, housekeeping, transportation and other services, which is typically funded through a combination of a resident's Social Security check and any pensions or investments.
The Village at Penn State, for example, charges an upfront fee that ranges from $171,000 for a one-bedroom apartment to $372,000 for a 1,800-square-foot cottage. Monthly fees start at about $2,100 and top out at $3,600. Depending on the size of your initial payment, you or your estate may get none or 90% of the initial fee back should you die or simply decide to move out. Under the standard plan, you'd lose 4% of the upfront fee the day you move in and an additional 2% each month. After four years, you'd lose the entire amount. If you can come up with a larger upfront fee, you or your heirs will get back 90%, regardless of how long you're there.
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