By Rob Love, President & CEO
I’ve worked in senior living marketing for more than 25 years now and I’ve often wondered: What would my ideal retirement environment be? I would want to live where I have nearby access to a broad variety of cultural activities, outstanding fitness and wellness facilities, opportunities to interact meaningfully and regularly with other generations, and the opportunity to pursue many lifelong learning interests.
In short, I would be like many others who have expressed a strong preference for a university-based Life Plan Community.
For the past three years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a team at Michigan State University (MSU) to lay the foundation for a Life Plan Community affiliated with the university, and I’ve been particularly struck by several things along the way:
- In consumer research events (think large focus groups), enthusiasm for a Michigan State-based Life Plan Community was off the charts. Out of 125 participating households, 84% indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to consider moving to the community. This is a far higher proportion than we typically see for non-university-affiliated communities.
- In working with an advisory committee to reach out to schools, departments and programs throughout MSU about the concept, most schools and departments came back with a long list of ways that they could benefit the residents of the Life Plan Community, and that the residents could benefit their school or program.
- Recently, we reached out to more than a dozen senior living operators to gauge interest in being the developer and co-sponsor of a Michigan State community, and their interest was immediately piqued with the idea of operating a Life Plan Community at MSU.
A year or two prior to working with Michigan State, we also did some competitive positioning work with Lasell Village just outside of Boston. Lasell Village is owned by Lasell University, and was expressly developed by the university 20 years ago as an additional revenue source. Lasell Village is unique among university-based communities in that residents must commit to completing more than 400 hours a year of academic, wellness and other personal enrichment activities.
The findings from our work with Lasell Village were interesting: Even before the community underwent a significant facilities refresh, Lasell Village benefited from a strong occupancy. The reason the residents chose Lasell Village was simple: The community was attracting a unique market segment that was highly attracted to an academic environment. Through our work with them, the community was able to increase fees significantly, invest in community renovations that position it well for the future, and maintain high occupancy, all due in large part to its intergenerational education foundation.
From a more personal perspective, I recently attended a Korean drum performance at the University of Maryland, as my son was one of the performing students. As I looked through the event program that described the extensive, multicultural music and entertainment performances—many of which are free—being put on at the university’s various theaters over the school year, I was once again struck by how appealing it would be to be part of such an environment.
So, interest in university-based communities remains high, both from prospects and from operators. But how can existing communities, ones that do not have a pre-defined affiliation with a college or university, benefit from this interest as well? Almost all Life Plan Communities are close to one or more institutions of higher learning, so an opportunity is almost always available. The question is, how can you take advantage of that opportunity?
I believe the answer lies in looking for win-win relationships: Don’t just look for what a university affiliation can do for your community, look at what your community can do to help a college or university.
In our work with Michigan State, the following are just a small sample of the ideas that MSU schools and departments had for ways a community could benefit students (with each of these items having a corresponding benefit to community residents).
- Music students can use space at the community to perform rehearsals and recitals.
- Arts students can plan and manage gallery spaces at the community.
- Kinesiology and nursing students can get first-hand experience working with residents at the community.
- Veterinary students can get practical experience working with residents’ pets.
- Students from a variety of fields can teach classes at the community.
- Students can get practical intern experience in a variety of administrative positions within the community (not just providing care).
- Community residents can be participants in academic research.
- Residents can speak to students on a variety of topics, providing insights from their years of experience in specific fields.
- Residents can serve as life coaches and mentors to students.
As the senior living field becomes more competitive, and communities look for more and more ways to create a unique value, I believe pursuing university and college relationships can provide a strong differentiator.
If your organization is intrigued by the opportunity presented by partnering with a university to expand or enhance your services, we would be happy to discuss the potential paths forward. Simply click here to get in touch or call Tim Bracken at 410-207-0013.