You’ve probably seen the “help wanted” signs at businesses across the country. Many industries are desperate to hire enough staff to meet demand and are looking at different ways to entice prospective employees to apply. Yes, higher starting wages is one obvious incentive, but some companies are offering education reimbursement as well. Perhaps most notably, Walmart and McDonald’s both recently announced new tuition reimbursement programs.

Employee recruitment and retention challenges are nothing new in the senior living and senior care industries. The sector has been grappling with employee shortages for some time — a situation only exacerbated by COVID-19. During the height of the pandemic, many frontline employees in this industry opted to throw in the towel due to the high stress created by the situation and/or for fear of becoming sick.

On top of this, many in senior living leadership are inching toward retirement age themselves with the average administrator being over 50 years old. It is understandable that some of these leaders decided to move up their planned retirement date in the past year too.

At the same time, industry demand is only expected to grow over the coming years as all of the nation’s 73 million Baby Boomers turn 65 or older by 2030. This is in part a reason why one of the largest continuing care retirement community (CCRC) operators in the country recently expanded its employee education reimbursement benefit.

The tuition reimbursement program perk

Fort Washington, Pennsylvania-based Acts Retirement-Life Communities manages 26 CCRCs in nine states with a total of 9,592 units. The nonprofit recently announced a partnership with Wilmington University, a private university in New Castle, Delaware to offer Acts employees the chance to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees via online courses.

Acts employees pursuing degrees at Wilmington University can receive substantial tuition reimbursement, depending on the type of degree earned. Those earning associate degrees receive up to $4,000 in reimbursed tuition per year while bachelor’s degree candidates are eligible for up to $5,000 in annual tuition reimbursement. Those pursing a graduate degree can receive as much as $6,000 in reimbursement yearly.

This tuition reimbursement benefit is on top of a 10 percent discount on tuition offered by Wilmington University to Acts’ employees. The program also applies to both online and in-person courses, providing the educational flexibility full-time Acts employees may need.

While Wilmington University offers degrees in over 200 fields, the Acts program does put an emphasis on courses that apply to their operational model like nursing, human resources, healthcare, technology, and hospitality. Such courses make the program mutually beneficial for Acts as well as their employees.

>> Related: Vision 2025: Developing the Next Generation of Senior Living Leadership

Lifelong learning partnerships

Tuition reimbursement benefits like this can help with recruitment and retention for CCRCs and other senior living communities. And CCRC-university partnerships like the one forged between Acts and Wilmington University are often a natural fit.

Indeed, one particularly appealing aspect of living in a CCRC is the access it offers residents to an array of amenities and services, which includes a full continuum of care services but also social, wellness, and educational activities. This is in part why many CCRCs have nurtured strong relationships with institutions of higher learning in their local area.

Lifelong learning programs are popular among seniors, and the ability to “audit” college courses may be especially appealing to some. Continuing to learn keeps the mind active, cultivates curiosity and creativity, and fosters intergenerational friendships.

One such CCRC-university partnership — between Arizona State University (ASU) and  Pacific Retirement Services — led to the development of Mirabella at ASU. Mirabella at ASU is a new 20-story CCRC on ASU’s Tempe campus that features 252 high-end independent-living apartments, many with spectacular views of the mountains. The new facility also boasts 52 healthcare units comprised of assisted living apartments, skilled nursing suites, and a secured memory care section.

This innovative project connects the research university’s student community to Mirabella while also fostering residents’ love for lifelong learning. Mirabella’s residents are welcome to audit college courses, utilize the school’s library, and participate in on-campus cultural and sports events — what Mirabella terms “intergenerational community-building.”

>> Related: Lifelong Learning: Good for Seniors’ Minds & Bodies

Mutual benefits for CCRCs and universities

Whether it is tuition reimbursement programs to support CCRC employee recruitment and retention, or partnerships that foster lifelong learning for CCRC residents, the synergies between CCRCs and institutions of higher learning are multitudinous.

I would love to see more of these collaborative relationships created. There are quantifiable benefits to CCRC residents, employees, and leadership, as well as to college students, faculty, and administration. It should be a no-brainer for organizations to take advantage of these win-win opportunities!

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