Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a
five-part series on ideas that will
transform the region.
MIDDLETOWN — A clock-towered Town Hall building is at the center of a 13-acre senior housing community on the campus of Lasell College in Newton, Mass. Its residents have access to art and dance studios, restaurant-style dining and educational programs overseen by an academic dean.
In Ann Arbor, Mich., non-pretentious city streets tie together a 92-unit condominium complex. For residents 55 and older, it’s nestled near the University of Michigan’s campus, and is home to many adults who work, volunteer or attend classes at Michigan.
Residence communities tied to major universities are attracting seniors interested in ongoing affiliations with local schools. Universities, in turn, have begun offering more accommodations to seniors.
These social services, particularly those centered in a residential community on or near a college campus, transform the dynamics of an area, said Dr. O’dell Owens, president of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
“...increasingly we’re seeing individuals who are coming to us just because we have courses that have always been of interest to them and they are now at the point in their lives where they have the luxury of indulging in that interest,” he said.
“Middletown, Hamilton — these are communities where this type of lifelong education center can become a reality,” Owens said. “What it takes are educational institutions that work in tandem with local officials, economic development groups, private businesses, and capital to better meet the needs of a changing population.”
The changing population
The number of seniors in Butler County are expected to double from 2000 to 2020, according to U.S. Census data. Ohio’s total population is expected to rise from the current 11.6 million to about 12.2 million in 2020, a 5 percent increase. In the same timeframe, Ohio’s 60 and older population is expected to grow from 2.1 million to 2.8 million, a 28 percent increase, according to Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center.
Gerard Badler, managing director of Campus Continuum, which consults with developers and colleges while planning, marketing and operating university-linked retirement communities, said research into university-linked senior housing has suggested interest is wide, and encompassing across the senior demographic.
In a survey conducted by Campus Continuum about four years ago, more than half of surveyed adults 55-75 said they liked the idea of retiring to a home on a college campus.
Additional surveys have inquired about retiring to specific colleges, Badler said, such as the University of Wisconsin or the University of Massachusetts.
“You might think that older people would prefer retiring to communities in warm weather climates but that doesn’t seem to be a critical issue,” Badler said.
Much-needed roles often await seniors at these colleges. A retired engineer could help students find jobs using a network of contacts or a retired reporter could assist with the school newspaper.
“I think there’s going to be a large demand for independent living units, basically college-styled apartments, that are tightly integrated with the academic host,” Badler said. “The university will allow residents to attend classes, encourage them to volunteer on campus and arrange opportunities to volunteer off campus, like in hospitals.”
Seniors enter Lasell Village on the campus of Lasell College with an intent to keep learning. In fact, it’s required.
“The village, as far as we know, is the only continuing care retirement community that requires its residents to take 450 course hours every year,” said Michelle Gaseau, Lasell’s director of communications. “It’s part of that lifelong learning mission.”
Seniors have multiple options in taking these classes, Gaseau said. Credit can be earned on Lasell’s main campus or on the retirement community’s campus, where professors will often come to teach.
Attending cultural events — performances by the Boston Ballet or Boston Symphony Orchestra — also secure course credit.
“It’s not uncommon for these residents to have many more hours than they need,” Gaseau said.
Lasell Village celebrated its 10-year anniversary this past spring. According to Gaseau, there is a lengthy waiting list for seniors to enter the program.
“I think it’s very tricky and difficult to replicate,” she said. “You have to do it carefully, and put those interactions in place ... When people come to the village, they’re expected to be engaged and interact in this setting.”
The idea at home
The Knolls of Oxford, a nonprofit continuing care retirement community that has an ongoing partnership with Miami University, is settled on an 85-acre campus near the school. Becky Lukens, a resident, said she takes full advantage of Miami’s offerings.
“We have a van that will take us to lectures at the university, (or) musical performances,” she said. “There’s always a lot going on at Miami. It’s really an ideal situation, as far as I’m concerned.”
Lukens, 88, has lived at the Knolls for 11 years. Although she is a retired English professor, Badler said research has shown interest in university-linked retirement communities is not unique to the school’s alumni, nor a certain level of education.
“Amongst the population that we’ve seen, there is a strong interest not only among people who are extremely educated — that have a Ph.D., for example — but also people who have a bachelor’s or community college degree,” he said.
Lukens takes part in Miami University’s Institute for Learning in Retirement, which allows Oxford residents over the age of 50 the option of taking five-week courses on campus each semester. Classes range from studies on Buddhism to courses on the Civil War and the writings of Ernest Hemingway.
Cheryl Young, program director, said Oxford’s draw is its activity.
“Oxford is a very vibrant, young community, and I think our retired folks like to connect with that,” she said.
Most major universities offer lifelong learning courses, Young said. Miami’s is self-funded while programs at the University of Dayton and the University of Cincinnati are funded by grants from Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes.
Karen Arlauskas, 62, of Middletown, said seniors should — to the best of their ability — consciously work to remain sharp later in life.
“I think a lot of folks get house-bound and stop learning,” she said. “When you stop learning, you start dying ... life is about learning every day.”
About 15 years ago, researchers began to seriously develop the concept of “successful aging,” said Dr. Suzanne Kunkel, director of Miami’s Scripps Gerontology Center and professor of gerontology.
“It has multiple components,” she said. “It’s about feeling connected — the idea we have control over how we spend our time, and in enriching ways.
“We do know the very fact of being with other people — that social support — has very positive health benefits,” she said.
Research spotlighting a statistical link between education and overall health was recently featured in the Marblehead Reporter. The research, conducted by David M. Cutler, of Harvard University, and Adriana Lleras-Muney, of Princeton University, concluded more education reduces the risk of heart disease by 2.2 percentage points and the risk of diabetes by 1.3 percentage points. Additionally, people with higher levels of education were found to be less likely to partake in alcohol, smoking, use of illegal drugs or obese behavior.
Top to bottom benefits
According to Jan Toennison, spokeswoman for Miami University and affiliated campuses — including the Greentree Health Science Academy — seniors can audit into any course on Miami’s campuses free of charge as long as they are 60 or older and have lived in Ohio for at least a year.
Classes like Beginner’s Spanish are popular in this respect, she said. Audits will be accepted as long as there is space in the class and the instructor upholds the registration.
“I know there’s one guy here who’s taken a lot of classes,” she said of Middletown’s campus. “He got his degree from Kent State years ago but he just likes to learn.”
An increased partnership between active seniors and universities will benefit all who are involved, Badler said.
“Having these upper middle class seniors who have pretty good retirement incomes and are not making major demands (is a positive),” he said. “They pay taxes, and are providing expertise by volunteering in organizations.”
Badler added schools may get one-time or annual payments from developers for their affiliations with university-linked senior housing.
Contact this reporter at (513) 705-2871 or firstname.lastname@example.org.