Al Green remembers his years at Penn State as truly happy; there were "no pressures of any sort." After he graduated in 1947 with a degree in journalism, he moved to New York City as a women's clothing manufacturer. Then, in the late 1980s, he retired to Longboat Key, Fla.
"If someone had said to me at the time, you can stay here and make a living, I would have definitely done it," Green said of Penn State.
Almost 60 years later in 2005, the 81-year-old alum was back –this time as a resident of a retirement community, the Village at Penn State, just miles from campus.
"After living there for some 20-odd years, we sort of wanted to see people that weren't all our own age," said Green about life in Florida. "There's more to life than early-bird specials. And so, we came back to where the rest of the world is."
Now, Green does many of the same things he did when he was a student. He takes classes in history, political science and English through the college, goes to football and basketball games, and catches up with retired classmates or fraternity brothers.
"It's just an overall feeling that we're younger again and part of a university," said Green. "You walk around the campus and the town, you just don't feel your age."
Just like Green, an increasing number of retirees are moving close to college towns. From alumni and faculty to people who want to experience the buzzing energy of a college campus, retirees are turning back the clock.
"I think that it is safe to say that university-linked retirement communities are an established trend," said William Silbert, director for marketing and public relations for the Kendal Corporation, which operates a number of college-related retirement communities. "The traditional view of retirement as a time to fish and play golf appears not to be the lifestyle of choice going forward."
The number of people retiring to college towns has shown an increase since the "mid-1990s," according to Robert Karrow, editor of the Web site CollegeTownLife.com.
"Retiring to college towns has seen increasing interest since people born in the 1930s began to retire," he said. "Since a larger percentage of the population born after 1930 have bachelor's or advanced degrees, I think it really has been this demographic group that is driving the interest in college-town retirement."
College-town locations are desirable because many offer accessible transportation, college resources, generally stable housing prices and often top-notch medical facilities, according to Jan Cullinane, co-author of the book The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life.
"It's really convenient to be close to the college because I have use of the library, which is very important," said Marcel Gutwirth, a former Haverford College professor who retired to the Quadrangle, a Haverford-based retirement community. "I think people who are attracted to this particular place are attracted to it, at least in part, by the fact that there is intellectual activity."
But with everything within reach — from classes to sporting events — are college-town retirement communities more like dormitories?
Not at all, stated Jill Lillie, director of sales at the Village at Penn State. "If someone wants their privacy, it is just like being in their own home, but the opportunity for all that socialization is here," she said. "It is very much like being in your own home, yet you can go down the hallway and gather with your neighbors."
"And you don't have to take the exams," added Green.
Among some of the more popular retirement locations are Ann Arbor, Mich.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Princeton, N.J.; and Gainesville, Fla.
The towns are especially appealing to college alumni, like Green. In fact, alumni and other "affiliates" of Penn State make up about 60 percent of the residents at the Village, according to Lillie.
The Village at Penn State opened in 2003, in part because of alumni support for such a community, noted Lillie and Geoff Rushton, Penn State's university spokesman. The facility has about 220 residents who live in either one- or two-bedroom apartments or single-family cottage homes.
"The university realized that there was a big interest from alumni who had the need to retire to a place of their choice, and really felt a special connection to the university and wanted to move back there," said Rushton.
Keeping Their Faculties
Many retired faculty members also don't stray too far from their classrooms after retirement. Irvin Glassman left as a professor of engineering from Princeton University in 1999, after nearly 50 years of teaching, graduating more than 40 doctoral students. He moved to Princeton Windrows, a retirement community near the university.
"The name of Princeton is a magic name," said Glassman. "To say you were an associate of Princeton, no matter where you are in the world, they [recognize] it."
There has also been a growth in interest for more Kendal retirement facilities, said Silbert.
"We continue to be approached by community groups and by institutions of higher learning who are interested in establishing a Kendal community in their locale," he said. "Last I saw, there are at least 60 existing university-affiliated retirement communities, and more continue to be planned."
As a new generation of retirees comes onto the scene, the number of people coming to college towns could also grow.
"We are just beginning to see members of the baby-boom generation retire," he acknowledged. "This group, as a whole, has even more experience with higher education than people born from 1930 to 1946. The sheer size of this group will bolster interest in retiring to college towns."
With the trend becoming more popular, current college students might want to secure their own spots when it comes time for their class to retire.
"I definitely would — it's a wonderful facility," said Ashleigh Lang, 21, an intern at the Village and senior at Penn State. "I would not hesitate at all to come back to live at the Village."