University-Based Retirement Communities as a Growth Opportunity

May 16, 2023 | Industry Trends

By Lauren Houlik, Director, Market Intelligence

Why Senior Living Communities Should Partner with Universities for a Synergistic Solution

The University-Based Retirement Community (UBRC) is a senior living concept that has gained traction in recent decades. Trailblazers like Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, The Village at Penn State, Lasell Village at Lasell College (now Lasell University), and several Kendal communities were among the first to experiment with this progressive format by building age-restricted senior living residences either on or near college campuses. The result? A multigenerational community where residents enjoy housing, dining, wellness, healthcare and education, all on one campus.

Why Develop a UBRC?

Why should a Life Plan Community consider partnering with a university or college to create a UBRC? The benefits to both are numerous. For starters, a UBRC offers a unique lifestyle that encourages lifelong learning and fosters multigenerational connections. Additionally, it provides a new revenue stream for colleges and universities to help weather the challenges of falling enrollment. And let’s not forget about the staffing benefits for both organizations, such as a pool of student labor and opportunities for shared services.

Equity in Education

Due to steadily declining enrollment, by 2025, community colleges and regional four-year universities are predicted to shutter at increasing rates, which is a real shame since higher education is one of our nation’s greatest exports.

What’s even more concerning is that smaller, less prestigious colleges tend to serve students who are already at a disadvantage: first-generation college students, low-income students and ethnic minorities. By allowing these schools to disappear, we risk disenfranchising would-be students and limiting opportunities for diverse populations to pursue higher education. As we strive for greater diversity, equity and inclusion as a nation, it would be beneficial to find ways to ensure that these smaller schools continue to operate successfully.

That’s where UBRCs can come in. For colleges and universities facing declining enrollment, UBRCs can provide an additional revenue stream that can help offset lost income from declining student admissions. And with demographics continuing to shift in favor of older populations, UBRCs may be the best opportunity for smaller, private colleges to not only survive but thrive in the years ahead.

Boomer Appeal

The baby boomers are aging into senior living, and they’re unlike any senior living generation before them. As individualists, they expect customized options, integrated technology, intergenerational connectivity, and specialized amenities that cater to their diverse interests. Luckily, college campuses are already equipped to meet most of these expectations, making them a perfect fit for the aging boomer.

Many boomers share a strong sense of individualism, and these soon-to-be senior living prospects insist on doing things differently than their parents—including retirement. Contrary to the institutional isolation they perceived at their parents’ retirement communities, boomers demand connectivity in environments that support their active lifestyles. UBRCs provide an ideal environment for active aging, with college campuses that offer opportunities for learning and growth, along with energetic student life. Additionally, many UBRC residents are also alumni, which enhances their sense of belonging and community, providing instant connections among fellow alums and students.

As many boomers have amassed considerable wealth to spend down in retirement, housing retired alumni on campus could also mean increased donations. (The University of Florida raised $20 million from Oak Hammock residents during the first 10 years the community was open!) With UBRCs, colleges have a unique opportunity to not only fill the enrollment gap but also engage with their alumni base and generate new revenue streams.

Operational Advantages

Retirement communities are struggling in today’s challenging staffing environment, with many having to use costly agency staff and some even taking beds offline due to their inability to fully staff clinical roles. The UBRC model offers a staffing advantage, as it provides direct access to a pool of student workers. Not unlike work-study student employment, UBRCs offer various roles suitable for student workers on a volunteer, intern or paid basis. Even better, colleges with nursing schools can offer enhanced, on-campus opportunities for gaining job skills training in real-life environments while helping communities address critical staffing shortages.

By housing both students and seniors, the UBRC model offers opportunities to spread costs across both populations through shared campus services and amenities. This efficiency benefits both communities and colleges and is even more impactful in the current, high-inflation environment.

What Types of Communities Can Become UBRCs?

When it comes to developing a UBRC, there are several types of communities that could make great candidates. Start-up communities, existing senior living communities and satellite campuses could all become UBRCs. Existing senior living communities near universities can form partnerships and even develop satellite campuses on or adjacent to college land, allowing residents to benefit from both the university and main community campus amenities, programming and offerings. Meanwhile, residents of the main community campus could also access resources and shared amenities at the satellite location.

For providers looking to develop a UBRC without a nearby college, partnering with a university in a different location to create a new community could be a strong option. By working with the university partner and various stakeholder and prospect groups, organizations can develop new communities under new UBRC branding.

How To Get Started on Developing a UBRC

If you’re considering developing a UBRC, it’s important to first understand your market and potential consumers. That’s why we recommend conducting a market analysis to gauge the demand for additional senior living residences, followed by digital surveys to university- and/or community-affiliated groups to learn about potential prospects’ preferences and interest in the UBRC concept. If the results show meaningful demand and interest in the concept, we then recommend digging deeper into consumer preferences with on-site focus groups or community research events to help guide community design and programming, while also building an interest list for the project.

Developing a UBRC can be a fruitful endeavor for senior living providers and universities alike. Whether you are considering starting a new community or transforming an existing one, there are many options available to make this concept a reality. Love & Company has had the privilege of supporting several UBRCs in different stages of their development and can help get you started on developing your own. If you are interested in learning more about UBRCs and how to get started, we’d love to chat with you! Just reach out to Lauren Houlik, Sara Montalto or Tim Bracken.

Latest Insights
Are You Only Serving Good Food?

Are You Only Serving Good Food?

To stay competitive, senior living must evolve dining programs to adapt to new expectations with branding, efficiency, technology and safety.