April 29, 2014 — For folks interested in an active retirement community for the mind there are few choices better than a college town. With so many advantages, and a minimum of reasons why not to try it, it is not surprising that so many baby boomers are exploring a college town retirement. This article, Part 2 in our series (see Part 1: “Should You Be Retiring to a College Town“), will explore many of the reasons why a college town retirement is so desirable, as well as list some of the more appealing campus towns in our database. We are indebted to frequent contributor Jan Cullinane, author of The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (AARP/Wiley) and many other books and articles, for her insights into the advantages and drawbacks of college town life (see below).
College Towns as Opposed to Towns with Colleges
Some time back one of our members pointed out the subtle but important distinction between a college town and a town that has a college. Not that both don’t usually offer more than similar towns, they do. But here is more on the distinction:
College Towns. Here we mean a place where the college is the dominant influence on the flavor and makeup on the town. There are many small towns in Ohio like Oberlin, Ohio (Oberlin College) or even larger communities like Princeton, New Jersey, where the college is central to the town’s atmosphere and being. Retiring to a place like these means you will see (and hear) students on a daily basis, at least when school is in session. On game days you might have to put up with extra traffic. And there will be a host of cultural activities like plays, concerts, readings, and classes that you might be tempted to take part in. Note that in this article we will be concentrating on college towns as opposed to towns with colleges.
Towns with a College. Think New York City, or Philadelphia. These cities have many colleges and universities, but you don’t think of them as college towns. If you decide to retire to a town where the college is a minor part of municipal life, such as a mid-size city with a community college, you will not be immersed in the exciting bustle of campus life. But, the same resources are there to be enjoyed if you wish, although you might have to seek them out.
The pluses of a college town retirement
Thanks to Jan Cullinane for these suggestions.
– Life-long learning opportunities (especially through continuing/adult education or Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes)
– Generally stable housing prices
– Plethora of sports to watch and follow. And many times you can use their facilities
– Rich array of cultural activities
– Often cutting-edge medical care
– Interesting restaurants to choose from
– With a “university-linked” retirement community, you would be surrounded by people who value learning
– CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities), such as a Kendal
university-linked community, allow you to move from independent living to assisted living to skilled care, all on the same “campus.” So, you can age in place, and have the peace of mind that you won’t have to move again.
– Surrounded by young people who are full of life and energy. Or on a more basic level, as one man told Jan Cullinane why he liked college towns: …”and they have cheap beer and pretty girls.”
College town drawbacks
– If you’re looking for part-time work after leaving a primary career, you may be competing with 30,000 other students for jobs.
– Need to feel comfortable with the majority of people being about one-third of your age, and who might be more liberal than you are
– University-linked retirement communities (such as Kendal communities) are often CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) – so the average age of residents is older, about 82 (perhaps a disadvantage if you’re younger and able to do more).
– If you go the CCRC route – they are not inexpensive
– If you aren’t living in a separate “retirement community,” there may be large numbers of college students who are renters and have an active (and noisy) night-life.
– Real estate prices usually higher
Some top college towns for retirement
The good news is that there are any number of college towns that might be the best place for your retirement. Using our Advanced Search we discovered 295 towns with colleges in them (but not all would qualify under our definition of college town). We found 16 active and/or retirement communities that are “university affiliated” using the Advanced Search feature (the list is shown at the end of this article).
Princeton, NJ. This prestigious Ivy League college dominates the towntown with its graceful “collegiate gothic” architecture. Real estate is expensive but there is no shortage of nice communities in and nearby. In “The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement” Jan Cullinane tells why Martha H, who retired to Princeton, likes it there: “She can take advantage of the famed Princeton University and all it has to offer. Or enjoy the McCarter Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, or stroll to Palmer Square from her home with its shops and varied restaurants.”
Williamstown, MA. Another highly rated higher learning institution, Williams College, is the center of this town. The Clark Art Institute and the Williams College Museum of Art are not to be missed.
Ann Arbor, MI. Home to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is a graceful city with 115,000 residents. The downtown is the center for dining out, entertainment, and artistic performances, There are music stores, sidewalk cafes, bars, bookstores, and shops.
Oxford, MS. “Ole Miss” is the main reason Oxford was named by USA Today as one of the top 6 college towns in the nation. The population grew 60% from the year 2000 to 2010.
Madison, WI. The U. of Wisconsin’s 41,000 students help make Madison a bustling place. Located in the picturesque isthmus between 2 lakes doesn’t hurt either.
Lancaster,PA Franklin & Marshall College is a big force in this Pennsylvania town of 55,000.
Tempe, AZ. Most people of retirement age would not want to live in the vicinity of this mega-university, but they would enjoy visiting Tempe’s downtown and taking in the vibrant atmosphere, made more interesting by the presence of the students.
Boulder, CO. Like Tempe and Ann Arbor, Boulder is a mid-size city that is still small enough to feel what it is like to have the lively presence of 32,000 students (from the U. of Colorado). The city has won so many awards that the City’s official website has an entire page devoted to them – most focusing on best “Green”, “Bicycling”, “Running”, “Healthiest”, “Best Place to Live”, etc.
Champaign, IL. A big part of this town’s excitement comes from being the home of the University of Illinois and Parkland College. This mid-western town with a number of hi-tech startups has a population of 82,500.
Bloomington, IN. The campus of Indiana University has been called one of the 5 most beautiful in the nation.
Durham, NH. Home to the University of New Hampshire, the population is just over 14,000. It is situated beside Great Bay at the mouth of the Oyster River, and not far from the charming and historic town of Portsmouth, NH.
Lawrence, Kansas. The university of Kansas and its 30,000 students give Lawrence a liberal bent and is the source for many cultural offerings. Lawrence has microbreweries, a half dozen locally-owned coffeehouses, and an anti-discrimination law protecting gays. The city has a thriving music and art scene.
Ithaca, NY. Home to Cornell and the Moosewood Vegetarian Cafe, what more is there to ask for?
Lexington, Virginia. Lexington is the home of two prestigious colleges, Washington & Lee University and Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The George C. Marshall Foundation is here. Both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are buried here. Population is 7,000.
Williamsburg, Virginia. A lot of Williamsburg’s culture revolves around its colonial setting. History buffs will find everything they need here. The College of William and Mary has many cultural offerings.The Christopher Wren Association offers classes to people of all ages who have a desire to continue academic learning.
Clemson, SC. Clemson University’s cultural and sporting facilities provide cultural and recreational opportunities. On game days the 80,000 stadium fills the town with excitement. Retirees may audit classes at the university at no charge. Lake Hartwell runs through town, Lake Keowee is nearby
Retirement Communities Affiliated with Colleges
We have profiled 16 communities that have some type of connection with a nearby university. Note that not all of these communities have an official connection to a college, although they are usually nearby and have at least unofficial interactions.
Lasell Village, Newton, Mass. Lasell is designed on the scale of a small New England neighborhood, located on a landscaped 13-acre site on the campus of Lasell College. It is home to 225 residents in its independent living apartments and includes Lasell House, a 38 bed skilled nursing facility.
Austin Manor – Delaware, Ohio. Located on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University, Austin Manor is the nation’s only intergenerational university housing. This former dorm that was converted into 1 and 2 bedroom apartments. It offers unusual access to campus activities as well as the presence of vital young college students. A former student residence has been converted into an exciting living and inter-generational learning community for alumni, professors, friends of the University.
Kendal at Oberlin. Oberlin College in Ohio is a very distinguished Ohio school with some 3,000 students. This university affiliated community is a Continuing Care Retirement Community that attracts alumni and others who want to retire in a college town.
Oak Hammock – Gainesville, GA
University Commons – Ann Arbor, Michigan
TigerPlace – Columbia, Missouri
Kendall at Ithaca – Ithaca, NY
The Village at Penn State State College, Pennsylvania
The Woodlands At Furman Greenville, South Carolina
Longhorn Village Austin, Texas
The Passing Grade
A college town retirement can be very exciting and fulfilling. This list is just the tip of the college town iceberg. See more great college towns for retirement in the Further Reading section below. Or, use Advanced Search to discover even more.
For further reading:
Going Back to School, Without the Pressure (New York Times)
Great College Towns for Retirement
Part 1: Should You Be Applying to a College Town for Retirement
Great Retirement Towns on a Lake (2 Part series)
Comments? Please use the Comments section below to provide your input. We would like to hear about your favorite (or not so favorite) college towns, along with what you like and don’t like about a college town retirement.