If you're feeling nostalgic for your college days, you might be able to relive them in retirement. College towns often have lots of amenities for retirees, including top-notch healthcare, good public transportation, and lots of free or low-cost things to do. And if you stay away from big cities, many places with colleges have an affordable cost of living. Here's a look at why college towns often make good retirement spots:
Free classes. College isn't necessarily expensive when you attend as a retiree. Many colleges and universities offer tuition waivers for older adults. For example, New Hampshire residents who are 65 or older are eligible to take up to two credit-bearing courses per academic year tuition-free at the University of New Hampshire (some fees may apply.) And Massachusetts citizens age 60 and older may qualify for a tuition wavier at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. "There's wonderful access to continuing learning, such as auditing college and graduate courses, opportunities for some to even contribute to some subjects in terms of teaching as a guest speaker, great opportunities for volunteering, lots of access to the arts, and a chance to mingle with people of all ages," says Andrew Blechman, author of Leisureville: Adventures in America's Retirement Utopias.
Some colleges also offer continuing education classes specifically for older adults. There are Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes on 117 college campuses that offer non-credit courses and activities for people age 50 and older, including the University of Southern Maine, Colorado State University, and Texas Tech University.
Good hospitals. Many colleges have affiliated teaching hospitals that provide medical services to the community that you would otherwise have to travel to a large city to get access to. "The large schools often, particularly if they teach medicine, have a really good hospital with a lot of specializations," says John Howells, author of Where to Retire: America's Best & Most Affordable Places. These hospitals may provide cutting-edge medication and treatments and allow you to enroll in clinical trials.
Speakers and concerts. College towns frequently attract world-class performers, speakers, and musicians. "Normally you have to have a large metropolitan area in order to enjoy different musical acts, concerts, lecture series, and have dignitaries and authors coming to town," says Bert Sperling, founder of BestPlaces.net. "But if there is a college there, these people are often speaking and presenting their ideas to the college and to other people in the community as well." In some cases, alumni and other members of the community can also get access to the library, lectures, plays, and performances for free or at a nominal cost.
Sports. Whether you're a fan of the Nittany Lions, Wolverines, or Blue Devils, you'll have plenty of opportunities to don your favorite sweatshirt and cheer for your local college team in retirement. The Forest at Duke, a retirement community affiliated with Duke University, provides a bus to Duke football and basketball games for residents so they can avoid the parking crunch. Sometimes community members can even use the college's state-of-the-art athletic facilities.
Affordable cost-of-living. Many restaurants and local businesses cater to people living on a college student budget by offering affordable services. "Another occasional advantage to college-town living is reasonable real estate. It isn't universally true, but many college towns offer bargain real estate prices compared with similar towns elsewhere," says Howells. "With perhaps 20 percent of the population being students on limited budgets and another large percent working as beginning teachers or support staff, housing prices can't be bid up past consumers' ability to pay."
A strong economy. Colleges generally have a stabilizing effect on the local economy. "College towns often prove to be the best towns to invest in because they have a guaranteed changing student population always in need of housing and a steady core of professors and administrators going nowhere," says Barbara Corcoran, author of Nextville: Amazing Places to Live the Rest of Your Life. "College towns typically have a thriving downtown which supports the business community and enough visitors to keep small hotels happy."
Public transportation. Public transportation is often reliable and affordable in college towns. For example, Corvallis, Ore., the home of Oregon State University, has a fareless bus system for all residents. And Pittsburgh residents age 65 or over can ride Port Authority buses and trains for free. Many other cities offer senior citizen discounts on public transportation.
Scenic beauty. Colleges are often built in picturesque settings, and they sometimes go to great lengths to keep the campus and surrounding community looking beautiful. Retirees can stroll among the historic buildings at the College of William & Mary or the Jeffersonian architecture at the University of Virginia. More adventurous retirees can hike to the gorges and waterfalls near Cornell University, traverse the two massive lakes surrounding the University of Wisconsin-Madison, or check out the giant redwood trees that punctuate the University of California-Santa Cruz campus.
Think young. A college brings a steady stream of young people into town who are eager to be on their own for the first time. This youthful energy can infect the whole town during orientation week, game days, and commencement, and there may be opportunities to get involved. "For young-at-heart retirees, there are often free classes, open concerts, and discounted tickets to sports events," says Corcoran. "They offer youthful enthusiasm and lots to do."
Retirement communities on campus. Many colleges now have retirement communities located on or near campus, including the University of Michigan, Duke, and Notre Dame. At Oak Hammock, a retirement community affiliated with the University of Florida, residents have access to the university's libraries, athletic facilities, and cultural activities. And University of Florida professors and other experts present lectures at the retirement community—no tests or grades required.