NIC Notes

Insights in Seniors Housing & Care

By: NIC  |  February 01, 2024

Exploring the Potential of Multigenerational Living and Learning: A Conversation with Anne Doyle

Ideas and Discussion  |  Workforce

How to reimagine senior housing in partnership with higher education.  

What does it mean to bring an explorer’s mindset to the redesign of senior housing?  

Anne Doyle HeadshotAnne Doyle, CEO of Spark Living and Learning, shares exciting new ideas here on how to develop a learning culture to attract the next generation of residents. Partnerships with local colleges or universities can provide unexpected benefits such as employee sourcing, expense management, educational enrichment, and engagement with the wider community. 

NIC Co-Founder and Strategic Advisor Bob Kramer interviewed Doyle at the 2023 NIC Fall Conference. What follows is an edited version of their conversation. The discussion offers relevant context and detail on how to leverage the benefits of higher education to create an aspirational community—one where people want to live. 


View Anne Doyle’s NIC Talks presentation on

multigenerational living here:

YouTube Anne Doyle___

Kramer: You had a revelation on a recent vacation. Can you tell us about it? 

Doyle: This past summer I had the opportunity to kayak in the Artic on the west coast of Greenland. Being in a remote place surrounded by massive glaciers and huge icebergs thousands of years old made me think about the senior living industry and the short time we have on this earth in comparison to our natural world. It put into sharp focus the importance for us to make the most of our time here and not think that those later years as ones to just slide through.  

Kramer:  It sounds like you realized the importance of intentionality in thinking about our later years.  

Doyle: Absolutely. Before I went kayaking in the Artic, I thought all icebergs were the same. But I saw that they’re all different, with a variety of shapes and hues. Most people think those who are older are similar. But we know people at 55, 65, 75, or 85 are incredibly different and each of us is different.

Kramer: How does that relate to senior living? 

Doyle: This applies to the individuality of people in their later years and how to develop choices for older adults. I’m excited about opportunities to create intergenerational communities. How do we take this incredible opportunity considering the diversity of people, backgrounds, and interests to help them make the most of their lives?  

Kramer: People might be familiar with your work at Lasell Village and think that being located on a college campus is the only way to partner with higher education. What would you say to them? 

Doyle: Lasell Village is a great example of a way to bring people together. Lasell Village is a fully integrated continuing care senior living community on the campus of Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts, outside of Boston. About 300 people live there across all levels of care. When residents move in, they agree contractually to have 450 hours a year of education. This model may not work in most places, but there are opportunities to tailor communities to different campuses.    

Kramer: Why is this the right time?  

Doyle: Higher education faces a declining birthrate and reduced customer base, while our industry faces an exploding customer base. There is an opportunity to match the puzzle pieces. Universities have a big interest in serving more people, and they have high fixed costs. Universities can benefit from a relationship with senior living.  

Kramer: What are the benefits for residents? Does a community affiliated with a college or university appeal to a wide swath of people? 

Doyle: There are clear benefits to individuals. Some are seeking purpose, or new educational opportunities. Maybe they’re interested in learning a new language, or in a different field of study. Maybe they want to retool their skills while they continue to work. If we have the benefit of a long life, those extra 20-30 years could give us the ability to have an extra career or pursue a new interest.  

Kramer: What are some of the different models that combine senior living and higher education? 

Doyle: There are fully integrated communities like Lasell Village where the community is embedded on the campus as well as communities that are associated with a college or university. The model could include all different types of housing. It could be a co-housing model with families. It could be an affiliation with a secondary school, cultural organization, or performing arts center.  We have to think intentionally about how to partner with assets in the wider community. 

Kramer: What are the multi-generational opportunities that might make this model attractive to the college or university? 

Doyle: When thinking about young people, they need work and senior housing offers work opportunities in hospitality, clinical sciences, marketing, and other areas. There is also the opportunity to develop intergenerational friendships when people are naturally together, say volunteering at a day care center on campus, in class together, or at the art studio. Friends can be made anywhere. Those relationships help address not only a concern in senior housing but also among those caring for young people. The perspective of older adults when a young person is stressed out can help mitigate mental health challenges and colleges don’t have enough mental health practitioners. Friendships across the life space can really make a difference.    

Kramer: What is the value proposition for older adults, investors, operators, the university and for the college age students themselves?  

Doyle: There are a lot of stakeholders in this puzzle, and I would add another, the workforce itself. As I mentioned, students need to work. The smart senior housing organization will develop a strong relationship with the university or college so students can work at the community or continue their education through capstone projects. Student workers surrounded by a professional support group and mentors are likely to have longevity with that senior living organization. Retention benefits the business, the students, and the older adults who see and get to know the student worker over a longer period of time.  

A second benefit is expense management. Senior housing and higher education have a similar infrastructure. We have workforce expenses, property, dining services and amenities. We can get creative about how to leverage each other’s resources. For example, we could buy IT services from each other and reduce our costs. Finding a way to pool our backend services really makes a lot of sense.  

The third benefit is that a college or university campus just naturally provides engagement every day. Communities serving older adults are constantly trying to up their game in terms of engagement and education. A university campus offers ever changing lectures, classes, and events.   

Kramer: What questions should senior living leadership be asking about their own goals that might inform new partnerships? 

Doyle: Start by asking: How do you want to live when you are 75, 85, 95 or 105? If we really honestly answer that for ourselves, then we realize all the things we want to do.  Our group who went to Greenland was in their 60s and 70s. It was cold. The wind ripped our tent in half. But we found it totally exciting. We need to design our communities for what we are interested in and not what we think other people are interested in. Maybe you’ve never had an opportunity to learn a musical instrument, and you’d like a place that has a relationship with a music conservatory. If we are intentional about what we want to do and who we want to do it with, there are so many possibilities. We’ll get a lot more creative and build better communities.  

Kramer: What’s the value add of the university community compared to a traditional senior living community? 

Doyle: The value add is having a pool of customers who want to move into your community. We know that we’re not that excited about moving to communities where our parents have lived. If we continue to replicate that model, we will have occupancies that continue to reflect that. Be honest about what interests us and our friends, and build for choice. The value comes from prospective residents who say this is a place I want to live and live for a longer time.  

Kramer: One of the issues in our industry is whether we are an avoidance setting or an aspirational setting. An avoidance setting is one in which I want to do everything I can, so I don’t end up being forced to move there. An aspirational setting is a place to explore new things, and a university is a great setting for that.  I like to say lifelong learning is learning for a long life. How do you view the connections between universities and senior housing? 

Doyle: I absolutely see the connections between higher education and senior living as aspirational. People choose to move in because they want to be in a community of curious people, and in a diverse community—people with different professional, racial, cultural, and geographical backgrounds.  

People often move to senior living close to where they’ve been living. But in my experience, a university or college connection creates a buzz around the opportunity for change. It’s like new college students who are open to all the possibilities on campus. I’d like to frame our communities as ones of possibility not of restrictions. We have that within our means.  

Kramer: How do these partnerships challenge the prevailing paradigm about getting old and aging?  

Doyle: I have a 91-year-old friend who says a healthy attitude leads to a healthy mind and body. This is from someone with many health issues. We can create communities that are about opportunities and not restrictions. We can support each other in a shared culture that believes we can do the things we want to do even with cognitive and physical decline.    

Kramer: As senior living leadership thinks about their own goals and pursuing partnerships with universities and colleges, what advice would you give them? What questions should they be asking themselves?   

Doyle: I led senior living on a campus, and we experienced tremendous success coming out of COVID with a large waitlist. Residents were engaged in education. Senior living leaders need to recognize that it often takes more intention to work with a university. The business objectives of the senior living community and the university must be 100% aligned.  As I said before, the college may be suffering from reduced enrollment and the need to spread fixed costs over a smaller customer base. Schools want to diversify their revenue.  

The college might be interested in selling or leasing land to a senior living provider. The provider could buy IT, fitness, dining, or educational services from the school rather than creating them in-house. The key questions are: What are your objectives? Are you aligned with the school’s objectives to develop an intentional partnership? 

Kramer: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned as director of Lasell Village and with your new firm? 

Doyle: We too often segregate social services and healthcare. And education is never in the same conversation. Put those pieces together, and then we’re really talking about wellbeing.   

Kramer:  What is the key takeaway from your time leading Lasell Village?  

Doyle: A key attribute of our success is that I had a role in the governance of the university. I had very good insights into the educational sector and the bottom line as well as the strength of the senior living community. I was constantly thinking of ways to benefit each party. It’s important to think about the alignment at the top. It can’t just happen naturally.  

Kramer: You recently took a trip to Sweden. What new perspectives did you bring back? 

Doyle: When I was 25, I studied in Sweden looking at alternative ways for older adults to live and receive services. I recently went back as a fellow at the University of Gothenburg. My ‘aha moment’ was that it’s universal to think about how to live a full life. We all want to be respected, live fully and not be restricted.  

Kramer: Anything else you’d like to add? 

Doyle: If we just focus on the capital markets and whether it makes sense to build a community near or on a campus, we are missing the opportunity to create intergenerational communities. But it takes an intentional connection between the leaders of both organizations. This period of slow development should not stop us from thinking boldly about what is possible to entice the next generation.  

About NIC

The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to support access and choice for America’s seniors by providing data, analytics, and connections that bring together investors and providers.

Connect with NIC

Read More by NIC