Pressure is being placed on academic institutions by covid-19 and has caused a more substantial and more apparent case for why universities need to partner up with senior living.
Senior living communities partnering with universities or colleges have gained traction before the start of the pandemic. Industry leaders like Sean Kelly, CEO and president of Kendal Corporation, and Bob Kramer, founder and president of Nexus Insights and cofounder of NIC have predicted that the pandemic could accelerate this trend.
This scenario is starting to become much more apparent as all of the challenges for academic institutions start to grow.
Yet some universities had planned to keep on going with in-person classes this fall, caused by the outbreak of coronavirus in the United States. The other colleges have not quite reopened and have instead gone towards remote learning programs. It does not matter what the case is, the disruption by the pandemic has complicated the average enrollment process for a lot of universities and colleges in the United States. However, this disruption could incentivize them to consider partnering with a senior living community to help lower the financial pain, mostly if students have not returned to the campuses in numbers like before the pandemic.
Just ask industry veteran Ryan Haller, who is the head of Orchard Hill Partners, an advanced life consulting business. Haller is preparing to set up a new real estate company called WELL Companies, which includes a brand that specializes in partnerships between universities and senior citizens.
Although the pandemic is still in its early stages and therefore difficult to predict, Haller believes that in the coming months and years, universities may face budget shortfalls related to restrictive donations and low enrollment. That may provide providers with an opportunity to stay ahead of academic leaders in new ideas.
Andrew Carle, the lead professor of the Advanced Life Management Program at Georgetown University, pointed out that although some universities may be in a more difficult situation than they were a year ago. The primary value proposition of connecting with high-level living communities has not changed. He is the pioneer of the University Retirement Community (UBRC) model. Today, Carle serves as executive director of The Virginian, a community managed by Life Care Services in Fairfax, Virginia.
Perhaps the biggest driver of the trend of accelerating senior life/university partnerships is the decline in campus enrollment and income. Kramer said the university and senior life departments are facing bottom-line pressure.
At the same time, senior living providers and universities are competing with customers, who can find other services in their own homes due to advances in communications and technology.
All these similar challenges may also provide new opportunities for integration and mutual learning between the two fields.
For those universities that are willing to take risks and work with senior living providers, there are many potential advantages. That includes attracting more wealthy senior living residents to spend money and time on campus, while also opening up new research and career development opportunities. For providers, it is no secret that establishing contact with universities has many advantages, such as name recognition and new ways of employment and collaboration.
Kramer added that Ivy League schools or other large, well-funded universities are more likely to have enough funds to survive difficult times. However, smaller universities with few students are in the most dangerous situation. Recent data shows that as many as one-third of private four-year universities in the United States are financially at high risk.
As Haller pointed out, these conditions make it easier for people to prove that high-end residential communities and university campuses are the right choices. But this does not mean that the universities have taken the initiative, nor does it mean that the provider can walk into the university president’s office to wait for the meeting. Instead, senior life providers must be prepared and willing to present their vision to the university.
For a long time, Carl has believed that senior life service providers with the right operating model and brand awareness have the opportunity to establish this partnership proactively.
But consumers themselves, the aging of the baby boom generation, maybe the most significant driving force of this trend.
Indeed, the preferences of the upcoming senior residents may also bring disadvantages to this trend. Brightview Senior Living, based in Baltimore, recently announced a collaboration with Notre Dame of the University of Maryland to start a feasibility study for a new community. Both organizations get driven by synergy between students and seniors.
Baby boomers are more likely to go to college than their parents, so they have more fond memories of their college days than the previous generation. That can give high-level living communities with strong university relationships an advantage over competitors.
Although the pandemic may indeed cause baby boomers to live more closely among their peers than before, Clay acquiesced that they will also see a trade-off between security and socialization.
Haller tracked about 70 university partnerships throughout the United States to research his new company, most of which involved private universities. Many of these partnerships involve superficial connections between senior life providers and universities. For example, one arrangement is for the university to provide a list of alumni contacts, and the provider will fund the annual lunch. He said, but for providers, the real reward is to build stronger partnerships in which universities will contribute some form of equity.
In return, a high-end residential community may attract hundreds of residents (some of whom have “fundamental” alumni) to participate in campus courses or activities.
In the future, Haller believes that the residential community for the elderly related to the university will not exist as a “space filler” on or near the campus. Instead, he believes that tomorrow’s successful university partnership will get integrated into the structure of the university’s master plan.
One thing that hasn’t changed much is the time it takes to establish university partnerships. Before the pandemic, senior life projects supported by universities usually took ten years to realize. Carl said the pandemic might have accelerated this process, but not by much. Haller estimates that as projects supported by universities have become more common over the years, the window may shrink to 5 to 7 years, but this is by no means inevitable.
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