Four or five days a week, Christoph Schmidt, 72, of Brunswick, Maine, walks to the Bowdoin College campus, where he audits classes, attends concerts and watches sporting events.
Schmidt, a retired banker, and his wife, Babette, are examples of an emerging trend in which seniors are actively involved in college life, sometimes even living on campus. Over the last decade, a national movement to formalize these kinds of relationships has gathered strength, with an estimated 10,000 seniors currently living in about 20 on-campus communities.
“More and more colleges are getting interested in the 55-plus active-adult community,” said Gerard Badler of Campus Continuum, a 2-year-old, Newton, Mass.-based company hoping to build such communities on or near college campuses.
“As aging baby boomers come into the marketplace, you’ll see the trend accelerating,” said Badler.
By 2020, there will be some 55 million people over 65 in the country, according to U.S. Census projections, providing a larger market for such communities.
The rationale is simple. Living on a college campus affords seniors easy access to sporting and cultural events, not to mention classes. And there’s a quid pro quo for the college kids, too; they get unofficial mentoring, a different perspective and, in many instances, home-cooked meals out of the deal.
“During winter break we have student athletes and other students over for dinner,” Schmidt said. “Bowdoin has a host family program where foreign students have host families.” Schmidt and his wife have a host student, he said. “We pick her up at the airport and do various things for her.”
Like many other seniors, Schmidt said he “liked the idea of having young people around,” which was what drew him to move to Brunswick. He particularly enjoys the opportunity to continue learning and has audited courses in history, philosophy and science.
Currently, about 20 formally linked communities exist nationwide, Badler said, including Penn State University and The Village at Penn State; the University of Florida, Gainesville, and Oak Hammock; The Forest at Duke in North Carolina; and Longview and Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.
Most such communities are continuing care retirement centers, or CCRCs, Badler said. These communities offer various levels of health care services to residents. The other model, communities for active adults age 55 and over, is on the upswing as baby boomers continue to age, according to Badler. University Commons at the University of Michigan is more focused on active adults, Badler said.
“Both the CCRC model and the 55-plus model will do very well over the course of the next 10 years or so,” Badler predicted. He described Campus Continuum as a community organizing organization that acts as a liaison between developers and colleges to foster relationships.
In the past, Badler said, such communities have come about through developers approaching schools and proposing formalized relationships. These relationships include such characteristics as granting seniors access to most all the programs and facilities of the school after they pay a specified fee, either their condominium association dues or monthly fees to the CCRC.
One example of senior housing on a college campus is Lasell Village, which opened in 2000. It is located on a 13-acre site on the campus of Lasell College in Auburndale, Mass. The CCRC, which is in a residential suburb bordering Boston, has about 210 residents in its independent living apartments.
At Lasell Village, the focus is on lifelong learning, and the retirement community has a formal, required continuing education program for residents.
“For many of these people, the best times of their lives were their college days,” Badler said of the aging baby boomers he is targeting. “For their parents’ generation, often the vacation spots, Florida, Arizona, were the best times, but the baby boomers see the fun and intellectual aspect of a college campus as attractive.”