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These College Towns Make for a Great Retirement

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

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. 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.

Scene from Indiana University – Bloomington (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Towns with a College. Most cities have some type of college or university within their city limits, 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 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
– Walkability
– 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 over 300 towns with colleges in them (but not all would qualify under our definition of college town). We found 20 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?

Washington & Lee University

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

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.

More University Related Communities
Academy Village – Tuscon, Arizona
Sun City Anthem Merrill Ranch – Florence, Arizona

Oak Hammock – Gainesville, GA

Meadowood – Bloomington, Indiana


Green Hills Retirement Community – Des Moines, Iowa

University Commons – Ann Arbor, Michigan

TigerPlace – Columbia, Missouri

New York:
Kendall at Ithaca – Ithaca, NY

North Carolina:
Galloway Ridge – Pittsboro, North Carolina
The Forest at Duke – Durham, NC

The Village at Penn State State College, Pennsylvania

South Carolina:
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 3: More Affordable College Towns for Retirement – Sunbelt
Part 4. Heading Back to Campus in Retirement: University Based Retirement Communities
Staying Busy All Day: Have Fun and Expand Your Mind in Retirement

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.

Posted by Admin on April 29th, 2014


  1. Do your research before you automatically decide to move to a college town and think you’ll be able to take all these wonderful courses! I live in Ithaca, NY, home to both Cornell and Ithaca College. As we decide whether it’s worth it to stay here with the lousy long cold winters and incredibly high taxes and cost of living, I looked into the possibility of taking language courses at Cornell, which has a fabulous selection of languages. However, I would have to pay FULL TUITION RATE (about $3600 per semester) for a language course that’s not a lecture! They rightfully need to keep these classes small for more interaction — but that’s how you learn a language. And that rate applies even if you’re auditing. You can be a “visitor” in larger lecture classes (some of them) and pay only a few hundred for the privilege, but that’s not what I want. (But many others might.) The Laboratory of Ornithology has wonderful spring field classes available to the general public for a few hundred, highly recommend. But don’t just assume that because you’re in a college town you have access to everything educational — unless you have the money. That said, there ARE a whole lot of things available here that aren’t in the surrounding Appalachian hills. Still, worth the cost of living??? We shall see. So as is said many many times on this blog, DO YOUR RESEARCH.

    by Paula — April 30, 2014

  2. I live in Phoenix, and go to Tempe to the University for some classes, and events, I get invited to hear special guest speakers, lots of fun! Don’t think I would want to live right in the heart of Tempe, traffic can be an issue, but it is nice to have the access from where I live.

    by Loralee — April 30, 2014

  3. Paula is correct about always doing your research. For example, my alma mater for my B.S. and M.S. – University of Maryland (College Park), offers generous benefits for those 60 and better:

    “Maryland law Education Title 16-106 Annotated Code of Maryland) provides for tuition waivers at all community colleges (subject to space availability) for any Maryland resident who is 60 years old or older and who enrolls in any class that is eligible for State support. In addition, it is the policy of the University of Maryland System to extend special privileges, where practicable, to senior citizens who are residents of the state of Maryland. The term senior citizen includes any individual who is 60 years of age or older, who is retired, and whose chief income is derived from retirement benefits, and who is not employed full time. Privileges to be extended to such individuals shall include, subject to certain conditions, waiver of tuition for undergraduate and graduate courses, use of the libraries, and such other privileges as individual institutions shall determine. Special programs for Marylanders who are 50+ are also available.”

    (Don’t like the term “senior citizen,” but just copying and pasting….)

    And, be sure to consider classes offered through OLLI (, which is found in about 120 colleges and universities:

    “Non-credit educational programs specifically developed for seasoned adults who are aged 50 and older; university connection and university support; robust volunteer leadership and sound organizational structure; and a diverse repertoire of intellectually stimulating courses.”

    by jancullinane — April 30, 2014

  4. I’ve been looking at Conway, Arkansas as a possible town to retire in. It has two small colleges & one mid-size university (University of Central Arkansas, UCA – about 11,000 students). Visited the town last week. The town appears to have a good mix of young & old people. The housing prices seem reasonable – medium around $150,000 or so. Some nice small, less expensive homes in the old part of town, near all 3 colleges. Traffic can be a problem at times. Downtown Conway looks economically healthy. UCA offers free for-credit classes for retirees (I believe this is the case for all state colleges in Arkansas). Cost of living index about 10% below the national average. Taxes are a little confusing to figure out, but the composite of all taxes (income, property & sales taxes) comes out slightly less than where I currently live in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. I drove around the old neighborhoods near the campuses at night, and was surprised at how quiet they were. Medical care appears to be very good. There is really no public transportation in place that could benefit seniors, but this is being considered. Weather is hot & humid in the summer; not too good. The people I met there seem genuinely friendly and helpful. These are my initial thoughts of Conway; its on my list for consideration after some research & one visit. But more research is needed. I appreciate any feedback or comments from those who are familiar with Conway.

    by Fred Schulze — April 30, 2014

  5. This comment came in from Kathleen:
    You left out 2 major “college towns” in Northern Colorado in your “college town” article- Fort Collins (CSU & Front Range Community College) & Greeley (UNC & Aims College) both have multiple colleges & universities within the cities. In addition, the colleges frequently offer free or discounted classes to seniors. I might add that both cities also have well know major bike paths within their boundaries, as well as gyms with free or discounted memberships for seniors.

    by Admin — April 30, 2014

  6. I suppose some people are so attached to the college where they did their undergraduate work and the name of that college gave them lots of points in their world of work and prestige with friends and associates that they would want to return and be like a kid again in their golden years. There are just a few of those kinds of colleges with the big name in your face. For the rest of us that really doesn’t matter. For most of us our alma mater after all these years really isn’t really attached to us with all those warm fuzzes. We live in Winter Haven Florida which has a medium sized and growing state university branch here. It does not offer coarses to audit for senior citizens but the tuiltion is rock bottom. The colleges does offer a wonderful music and art department with a gallery and theatre. They offer a series you can get for peanuts that is really quite good. The college is an active partner in community and economic development. We live less than 10 minutes from the college and do partake of its music and artistic offerings. They also offer a speakers series. Twenty minutes from us is Lakeland Florida with a private liberal arts college–Florida Southern College. They also offer wonderful music programs and a series of programs you can purchase for $100.00 with lots of variety and quality including big name orchestras and a speakers series. Florida Southern College is home to the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in one place. It is now on the National Register as such and they are developing an interpretive center. Nice place to visit and lots to offer local people as well. In Florida the big name schools–Florida State University and University of Florida are big name sports schools. Many alumni from all over Florida travel to the games at these schools and that is their link to a good life. People down here live sports especially college sports. Happy we live here where there are college but I sure wouldn’t base my retirement location based on whether it was a “college town” or “town with a college.”

    by David M. Lane — April 30, 2014

  7. Williamsburg, VA is home to William & Mary…and a wealth of educational opportunities thru the Christopher Wren Association. Classes are very inexpensive and there’s something for everyone.

    by Shirley Kappa — April 30, 2014

  8. Don’t forget towns with branches of state universities. They can provide some of the best continuing education opportunities. None is more active or better regarded than the Osher Lifelong Living Institute in Asheville, NC, at that city’s branch of the University of North Carolina. Just a stunning array of subjects and activities for those of us of a certain age. Check out the Osher web site.

    by Larry — April 30, 2014

  9. Tuscaloosa Alabama where the University of Alabama resides and Athens Georgia with the University of Georgia as the main presence are two of my favorites. Walkable with many restaurants, big time athletics and the amphitheater in Tuscaloosa are some perks.

    by Kevin — April 30, 2014

  10. For a single class per semester, our local community college is much less expensive than OLLI for over 60-year-olds. We are taking a night class tuition-free, and each paying $109 each in fees. If we took two classes a year times the two of us, that would still be cheaper than OLLI, leaving us cash to buy the $125 textbooks (two of them, which we found for $40 each on Amazon). Since we forgot to change to audit status, I frankly don’t think we’d have time to take more than one class per semester and do it justice. This is a good reminder to us of how much work is involved in a history class!

    by Sandra — April 30, 2014

  11. Kevin, I lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and it is a great small Southern small town, We lived on Lake Tuscaloosa, very nice and pretty. My complaint and scare there was living with lots of tornadoes and it we went through a hurricane. It was the scariest experience I ever felt! If that isn’t a concern, Alabama is very tax friendly and very warm friendly people. I hope to go back and visit…

    by Lorallee — May 1, 2014

  12. I am also a Coloradan. I lived in Boulder for many years. It is incredibly expensive. But some of the surrounding smaller towns are less pricey and not that far from all that Boulder has to offer. I suggest that your research include the surrounding area where you might find a compromise between just what you want at a high price and a price you can afford with a small commute!

    by Lulu — May 1, 2014

  13. What Paula said about Ithaca and Cornell: Apply to Princeton and the University. Winters, taxes, expensive real estate, and tuition fees.

    by OldNassau — May 3, 2014

  14. […] further reading These College Towns Make for a Great Retirement Affordable Places to Retire on the Waterfront (part 1) 7 Great Places to Retire for […]

    by » 10 Great Places in the Mountains for Retirement Topretirements — May 21, 2014

  15. […] For more information: Part 1: Best Places to Retire on a Lake (2011) Great Mountain Towns for Retirement Great College Towns for Retirement […]

    by » At The Lake – Where the (Retirement) Living is Easy Topretirements — July 23, 2014

  16. From David Lane, frequent contributor:

    Locating in retirement to a town with or near a college can have some great benefits. This is especially true if the institution has music/art/lectures/sports etc. that are available. These offerings are often very good and available at a low cost. In central Florida between Orlando and Tampa where we live there are several colleges offering programs for the public. We are taking advantage of them. While we would not want to live right adjacent to a college campus or near any of our alma matters taking advantage of these offerings can enrich retirement life. I don’t always see this as a check off point in “criterias for selecting a retirement location.”

    by Admin — October 7, 2014

  17. […] This is Part 1 of our “College Town Retirement” series. Here is the link to College Town Retirements -Part 2, which includes many more college towns to consider. March 21, 2011 — A reporter recently […]

    by » Should You Be Applying to a College Town for Retirement? - Topretirements — November 11, 2014

  18. […] further reading Part 2: These College Towns Are Great Places to Retire Part 1: Should You Be Applying to These College Towns for […]

    by » Most Affordable College Towns for Retirement – Sun Belt - Topretirements — November 11, 2014

  19. […] ||[]).push({}); For Further Reference: Part 1: Should You Be Applying for an On-Campus Retirement? Part 2: These College Towns Are Great Places to Retire Part 3: More Affordable College Towns for Retirement – […]

    by » Heading Back to Campus in Retirement: University-Related Communities Make Great Places to Retire - Topretirements — November 11, 2014

  20. I am VERY surprised that Boise, Idaho was not on this list. It’s a great town and many people are retiring here. Taxes are reasonable, the cost of living not at all bad and the weather is really quite good! Usually no more than an inch or two of snow at a time and cooler than Redding, CA in the summer.

    by Kathy Holcomb — December 7, 2016

  21. Kathy – I have been doing some research in the Boise area, and it looks like a great place to live. My husband Rich pointed out though, that Sperlings gives it a low rating with regard to health (bottom 1/3). – both air and water quality.
    Can anyone provide additional information on the area? We were thinking of flying out in the next few months, but now we are not so sure.

    by Liz — December 8, 2016

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