College isn’t just for the young.
With many people seeking a retirement that is culturally active and intellectually stimulating, colleges and universities are working to bring retirees to their campuses and towns, offering them free or reduced-rate classes, artistic performances and lectures. Some have partnered with retirement residences in the area.
For some retirees it’s a homecoming: They’re returning to their former campuses with warm memories of the time they spent there as students. Others are moving to be closer to their children, who might be affiliated with the university. For still others it’s just a new adventure.
"People think seniors today are looking for sun and sand and not much else," said Jill Lillie, director of marketing at The Village at Penn State, a continuing-care residence in State College, Pa. "But boomers are focused on new challenges. They want to enrich their lives, write a new chapter."
Campus life can provide plenty of opportunities to do that.
"We were tired of looking at old people, and we wanted to get to a place where there was a little more vibrancy, a little more to do," said Al Green, a 1947 Penn State graduate who moved to The Village at Penn State after first retiring to Florida. On a recent fall weekend, he was juggling sporting events, a bridge game and drinks with friends.
Students cite benefits, too. Vicki Centurelli, an Ithaca College senior from Hingham, Mass., who has volunteered with retirees, says, "Hearing about different experiences allows you to reflect on your own life and see it a little bit differently, which I think is important for college students to do."
Sure, the same types of residential facilities and programming are available in communities around the country, but there’s a preponderance in college towns, said Scott Perry, president of Bankers Life and Casualty Co., which put out a study on the best U.S. cities for seniors. Among the criteria it considered were social opportunities, including the number of colleges and universities in town.
"We can’t underestimate the importance of keeping our minds active as we age," he said, adding that college communities have the resources to "allow seniors to focus on what they want to pursue in the next stage of their life."
And it’s not just intellectual and social. Typically, he said, many large universities will have teaching hospitals and even dental schools which provide health services for seniors. "They raise the quality of care in the community," he said.
In Ithaca, N.Y., the Longview retirement community offers independent and assisted living, and has a partnership with Ithaca College to promote intergenerational learning. Two or three residents are taking classes at the college, said Breelan Nash, Longview’s recreation and volunteer coordinator. Residents also attend plays and concerts on campus, with transportation provided.
At the same time, some classes for students are held at Longview, and residents can sit in, said Rhoda Meador, director of the Gerontology Institute at Ithaca College. Talking with the seniors can provide context and reality to the students’ academic subjects, she said.
Sarah Furie, 20, a junior from Windsor, Conn., who is majoring in television and radio, said student volunteers have taught Longview residents about computers, performed musical programs and done arts and crafts.
Similarly, student interns teach fitness and art at The Village at Penn State and help with technology. Sports teams also visit, Lillie said.
Residents can take one class a semester at Penn State. "There has to be space available, and they can’t pre-empt a paying student," Lillie said.
But retirees don’t necessarily have to live in a facility partnered with a university to take advantage of programming at a school.
Sam Wolsky, who retired to Tucson, Ariz., from Chicago to be near his children and grandchildren, said he and his late wife, Roberta, found the musical, dance and theater offerings at the University of Arizona an added benefit to their lives there. "There’s a smorgasbord of activities that you can be involved in," said Wolsky.
Colleges and universities also attract retirees who want to use their expertise and experience to pursue a second career: teaching. Ron Brown, a 64-year-old patent lawyer, decided to retire to Tucson from Minneapolis in part for an adjunct teaching position at the University of Arizona law school.
He also hopes to take classes. "I have nightmares about forgetting how to do calculus," said Brown, who studied chemistry and chemical engineering and got a Ph.D. before going to law school.
One school — the University of North Carolina at Asheville — has established an on-campus center dedicated to making retirement a fulfilling stage of life. The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, founded in 1988, lets retirees in the community "use their lifetime experience to solve some of the problems, make a contribution," said Catherine Frank, the executive director.
Among other programming, the center offers for a small fee some 280 classes each year, from arts and crafts to philosophy, religion and literature.
About 30 percent of the members say the center was the primary reason behind their decision to retire to Asheville, Frank said. Other reasons cited include the area’s beauty and lively arts scene.