Back to School for Retirees

Joe DowlingApril 6, 2018

Retirement Planning

In the classic 1986 comedy movie, Back to School, Rodney Dangerfield’s character, Thornton Melon, an uneducated self-made millionaire, enrolls in college to support and encourage his son who has doubts about whether or not he can succeed in college. Thornton’s year in college quickly turns into a raucous, party-filled experience that causes tension between him and his son.

Little did we know when that movie was made that Thornton was ahead of his time. Today, colleges and universities collaborate to attract baby boomers and retirees with special programs, events and offers.  Life sometimes imitates art.

Higher education is tapping into a growing trend encouraging workers to think about the non-financial aspects of retirement.  As financial advisors, we rightly focus on the economics of retirement – do I have enough money saved, am I saving enough, will I be able to maintain my standard of living, etc.  Most pre-retirees do not give any thought to what post-work life will be like or the emotional and psychological impact of not working. Will Rogers commented on this rush to retire, “Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.”

“People really fail to think about retirement,” said Jill Steinberg, a California-based clinical psychologist who focuses on the psychology of retirement. “They don’t actually think about what they’re going to do and what retirement will look like. So people fail to plan or ask themselves, ‘What am I going to do with my time?'”

Based on her research and extensive interviews with retirees, Steinberg launched myretirementworks.com, which houses a wealth of information and resources to help people chart a path to a happy retirement.

Medical professionals and research have told us for years that the most important factors for retirees to maintain good health include diet and exercise plus having interests that keep our minds sharp. And being fit pays off financially. Active individuals have much less chronic disease – such as diabetes, heart disease and joint problems – and better mental health than unfit individuals. This correlates to less money being paid to the health care system.

Returning to campus life can help retirees access all of the activities needed to maintain a physically, mentally and socially active lifestyle.  According to Andrew Carle, the executive-in-residence in the Senior Housing Administration Department at George Mason University, “roughly 100 university-based retirement communities, or UBRCs, have established relationships with colleges to offer access to campus facilities, programs, classes, events, concerts, etc. to baby boomers and retirees.” As the ranks of baby boomers heading into retirement swell, Carle expects the number of UBRCs to double over the next decade.

The best URBCs provide a student ID which qualifies the holder for campus discounts, to register for classes, to use at campus eateries and to use the athletic facilities. Some of the best examples are the Kendal Retirement Community near small, private Oberlin College in Ohio, Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, and Meadowood Retirement Community near Indiana University. All are within five miles of campus. Locally in the Philadelphia area, the University of Pennsylvania charges seniors $500 to sit in on selected undergraduate courses. If there’s space available, seniors in Ohio can audit classes for no charge as part of Kent State University’s Senior Guest Program.

Being an alumnus is never a requirement, and most URBC residents’ ties to the college might not be strong. Interestingly, the university-affiliated centers are generally no more costly than other retirement communities.

Many retirees experience dramatic emotional changes in retirement, especially those who come to a hard stop.  Transitioning to a UBRC can alleviate much of that anxiety by having access to physical activity, intellectual stimulation and social outlets.



Retirement planning is about more than money, Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune, March 15, 2018
Should You Retire to College?, by Frank Jossi, Forbes
Retirees Return to College Just for the Fun of it, by Judi Hasson, Kiplinger
Retirement: The payoffs of an active lifestyle, by Nanci Hellmich, USA Today
Life After Retirement – What Do I Do Now?, by Mike Lewis, Forbes