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Grandparents Are Returning to College, to Retire


By Karen Alexander, The New York Times


 May 12, 2003

   Stephen D. Cannerelli for The New York Times

Nellie Corson lives at the Kendal retirement center in Ithaca, N.Y., which has ties to Cornell University and Ithaca College.

Most retirement communities are loaded with recreational and social activities. But what if retirees long for some intellectual invigoration? Some of these people are returning to college or, rather, choosing to live in a growing number of developments built for older people and situated on or near campuses.

College-linked retirement communities, as they are called, are available at 60 campuses nationwide, including the University of Michigan, the Ivy League members Cornell and Dartmouth, and even smaller schools like Lasell College, in the Boston suburb of Newton. Experts say these communities, where residents can buy or rent their homes, will become more commonplace over the next two decades, as many of the nation's estimated 76 million baby boomers reach retirement age.

At best, they will satisfy the baby boomers' increasing appetite for lifelong education, said Marc Freedman, author of "Prime Time: How the Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America" (Public Affairs, 2002). "At the very least, it could just turn out to be a revenue generator for universities and a pleasant way for older people to while away their waning days," he said.

In some cases, the retirement communities are run by large developers. One is the Kendal Corporation, a nonprofit charitable organization in Kennett Square, Pa., that operates units near Dartmouth, Oberlin College, and near the campuses of Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute. A Kendal project under development in Granville, Ohio, will have ties to Denison University, and a planned development in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., is exploring a possible link to a local college.

The Hyatt Corporation plans to break ground in late spring on the Classic Residence by Hyatt, on 22 acres near Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif.; already, 307 of the 388 units, which cost $600,000 to $3.9 million, plus monthly fees, are spoken for. The development will offer various levels of care, including 44 suites with an around-the-clock nursing staff.

The retirement communities usually have an affiliation with the school, and the residents often include alumni and former faculty members. Some retirement communities have informal ties, while others offer their residents access to university health care services and gerontology experts, the opportunity to attend classes and cultural events on campus and the chance to learn and live practically side by side with energetic college students.

"It's an affinity group," Ronald J. Manheimer, the executive director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, said of the residents. "They are people who hold lifelong education in high esteem; the life of the mind is important to them," added Mr. Manheimer, who has studied college-linked retirement communities.

But the campuses also benefit. At the 92-unit University Commons at the University of Michigan, residents attend football games together and often entertain dinner speakers from the university. Graduate students from the School of Music often perform their required concerts and recitals in front of an audience of University Commons retirees.

"They like an audience and we can always provide one," said Robben W. Fleming, a resident and a former president of the university, from 1968 to 1979, and on an interim basis in 1988.

Students, too, enjoy the interaction. When Jennifer Edwards, 21, graduates from Lasell College this spring, she said, she will miss her job as a dining hall manager at Lasell Village, the retirement community. Ms. Edwards, a fashion design major, said she had received support and advice on her senior project from her retiree friends, including a former fashion designer.

"You come to college expecting to be with your peers for four years, but when they threw in the village, it turned out to be so much fun," she said. "They love us; we love them. They know when things are wrong, and they tell you: `Look, you'll be fine. Look at how I made it.' "

Copyright 2002 Global Action on Aging
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