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Should You Retire to a College Town?

Insights & Ideas Team •  November 25, 2014 | Enjoying Retirement

Doris and Neil Snyder are on the vanguard of a growing trend: Baby Boomers who are eschewing traditional retirement settings in favor of life in a college town. These long-time residents of New Jersey originally had planned to build a log cabin on a parcel of land they bought 10 years ago in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. A recent visit to friends in Asheville changed that.

Asheville is the largest city in western North Carolina; it’s also home to the University of North Carolina’s (UNC’s) Asheville campus. “We immediately felt drawn to the vibrant, culturally rich atmosphere of this bustling mountain town,” said Doris Snyder. “Asheville is full of interesting restaurants, funky bookstores, theater and art galleries, sporting events and fun boutiques, which we love. But what sold us on the concept of retiring there was having access to educational opportunities.”

UNC has an entire department devoted to lifelong learning for people age 55 and older called the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (formerly the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement). Endowed by the Bernard Osher Foundation, this award-winning learning center operates in collaboration with UNC staff. Studies show that there are proven advantages to keeping the brain stimulated as we age. In fact, a 2013 NBC report on college town retirement communities showed that lifelong learning can slow down or decrease dementia, cognitive decline and depression.

Retiring to or near a college campus may not be the obvious choice for many people; but as the Snyders discovered, college towns typically offer other important advantages besides access to classes and cultural events. For one, many have world-class teaching hospitals that draw top medical talent. College towns with strong, diverse economies also may offer full- and part-time job opportunities for retirees who aren’t ready to fully exit the work scene. And as the Snyders learned, housing prices in college towns like Asheville can be surprisingly affordable.

Many colleges and universities have linked up with private developers to build residential communities specifically designed to attract retirees. These can take a number of forms, ranging from luxury golf course housing and attractive condos to continuing-care retirement communities with apartment-style living and access to health care facilities. In fact, The New York Times reported on April 4, 2014, in Going Back to School Without the Pressure, that there are about 60 such communities, including some near Stanford, Notre Dame and Penn State.

How do you decide if retiring to a college town is right for you? Start by doing your homework and learning all you can about the pros and cons of your various options. Here are five sources that can help you jump-start your search.

  • The American Institute for Economic Research’s (AIER’s) 75 Best College Towns and Cities for 2014-2015 takes an objective look at 12 key criteria that powerfully impact learning experiences at colleges and universities across America, including student life, economic health, culture and opportunity.
  •’s Great College Towns for Retirement uses reviews and data from real people to help Baby Boomers make more informed decisions about where they should live in retirement.
  •’s Ten Best College Towns showcases communities with strong ties to the universities that call them home. These places offer residents a high quality of life thanks largely to the impact the college has on its town.
  • College Town Retirement’s 101 College Towns You’ll Want to Know provides in-depth profiles, statistics and information about college communities across all 50 states.

When it comes to retiring to a college town, there are literally hundreds of possible locations from which to choose. Finding the right community becomes a question of which one best matches your specific needs, preferences and budget. “We’re thrilled with our decision to make Asheville our new home,” said the Snyders. “With all that the UNC community has to offer, we’re looking forward to making retirement what it should be: the best years of our lives.”

The Northwestern MutualVoice Team is a group of professionals who share insights and opinions from experts and industry leaders across the enterprise. Our vision is to inspire others to take action and plan for their financial future through topics ranging from financial planning, retirement planning and distribution strategies, wealth accumulation and preservation, to leadership, philanthropy and innovation.

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