In the United States, approximately 10,000 people turn 65 every day, according to the UN Population Division. The number of seniors will more than double by 2050, representing more than 20 percent of the nation’s population by 2050. Additionally, based on U.S. Census data, there are an estimated 73 million Baby Boomers in this country, all of whom will have turned 65 or older by 2030.

With these statistics in mind, it’s not surprising that the demand for senior living and other senior care services is expected to grow over the coming years. But will our nation be able to meet this increasing demand?

In order to keep pace, a new initiative developed by a leader in the senior care education field is working to train the next generation of senior living and care administrators.

Increasing demand, inadequate supply

There are roughly 50,000 retirement communities in the U.S., according to Ibis World data. This figure includes around 28,900 long-term care communities with 996,100 licensed beds, based on CDC data. Also included in this number are approximately 2,000 continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs or “life plan” communities) with an estimated 640,000 residents. (Note, there may be some overlap in these numbers since a CCRC provides long-term care services as well.)

As I’ve written about before, we have a looming long-term care crisis emerging in the U.S., with more than half (52 percent) of people turning age 65 requiring long-term care services at some point as they grow older. In the coming years, demand could outpace the supply of paid caregivers, as well as senior care administrators willing and able to perform this sometimes-difficult work.

Leaders within the senior living and care industry also are aging themselves, with the average administrator being over age 50. Within the coming decade, a large percentage of today’s leaders will likely be joining the ranks of the retired.

>> Related: Inflection Point: Our Nation’s Ever-Growing Long-Term Care Crisis

An innovative program for future leaders

When you consider the growing number of seniors and the odds that they will need some level of care at some point as they age, you can see that the U.S. is on a worrying path when it comes to senior living and care provision. “We have more people leaving the profession than entering it at the same time demand for professionals in the field is increasing,” notes Dr. Doug Olson, a leader in the field of senior care education.

This alarming trajectory is why Dr. Olson is spearheading an effort to increase the number of senior living and care administration programs at colleges around the country. He has collaborated with other industry leaders and school administrators to create Vision 2025.

The goal of this nationwide effort is to increase the number of college students studying senior living and senior care administration by:

  • Strengthening academic programs
  • Establishing strong partnerships
  • Providing quality field experiences

To achieve these objectives, Vision 2025 aims to develop at least 25 college/university senior living and senior care education programs; create 1,000 paid internships with senior housing, care, and service providers; and nurture new industry and provider partnerships — all by the year 2025.

Ultimately, this initiative will help ensure that the senior living and senior care industries have the leadership required to meet increasing demand as well as evolving industry needs.

>> Related: The Voice of the Resident: Why the Senior Living Industry Should Listen

Making the case and meeting the challenge

How do you convince a college freshman that choosing a career in senior living or senior care is the right move?

“The field has image issues, so we have to find ways to change the perception,” Dr. Olson notes. “It just isn’t something that jumps out an 18-year-old when they’re thinking about what to do for a career. We need to help them understand that graduates get jobs, they have a good salary, and there are many potential career paths because the senior care and living sector continues to change all the time.”

“Students often become interested when they learn it’s a career that allows them to use their heart, head, and hands,” continues Dr. Olson. “Their heart because they’ll make a difference for many people, their head because they must run a good business, and their hands because they will work with many people.”

“This younger generation is very focused on wanting to make a difference in the world; they want to make things better,” Dr. Olson observes. “They also are multitaskers who like to be challenged. That fits well because no leader in senior care has the same kind of day two days in a row.”

>> Related: When a Change in CCRC Leadership Causes Concern Among Residents

A model for Vision 2025

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has one of the largest and best-known senior living and care programs in the U.S.: The Center for Health Administration and Aging Services Excellence (CHAASE) program. CHAASE has 215 students and graduates about 60 each year. (By comparison, other similar programs graduate an average of 10 students per year.)

Graduates of UW-Eau Claire’s program are highly sought-after, with nearly 100 percent of them getting jobs immediately after graduation. The CHAASE program also was the first to receive health services executive accreditation from the National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards.

The UW-Eau Claire program thrives in part because of a collaborative approach between the university and industry providers. They also require students within the program to compete a yearlong paid internship, giving them real-world, hands-in experience even before graduation.

Given the success of the CHAASE program, it was natural that they would take a leading role in the execution of Vision 2025, serving as a model for other programs.

“UW-Eau Claire and CHAASE are ready to collaborate and to lead so we can ensure that universities produce enough senior care leaders to meet the needs of all parts of the senior care continuum,” says Mike Schanke, a 1985 UW-Eau Claire graduate who is also on the CHAASE board and the Vision 2025 steering committee. “If people want to look to us as an example of what can work, we stand ready to help them.”

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