PULLMAN, Wash. – As 75 million baby boomers reach retirement age in the next eight to 10 years, the demand for senior living professionals is going to skyrocket, according to projections from Argentum, the nation’s largest senior living association.

A new senior living management major in Washington State University’s School of Hospitality Business Management (SHBM) will help meet that need.

Beginning this fall, the major will be offered on the Pullman campus. It is designed for business students seeking managerial positions in the senior living industry, with a focus on hospitality operations.

“The goal is to be the program of choice for students and industry seeking an operationally focused senior living management program, supported by a solid business foundation, for education, training, employment and support,” said Nancy Swanger, founding director of the WSU Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living. “Graduates will be poised to become the next generation of senior living leaders to improve best practices, technology and residents’ quality of life.”

Hospitality school a natural fit for senior living education

Plans for a WSU senior living management program started several years ago in conversations with Aegis Living, Leisure Care, Emeritus (now Brookdale) and Merrill Gardens, some of the nation’s top senior living providers. The SHBM was a natural fit, as there are many parallels among hospitality, hotel companies and senior living communities, Swanger said.

The school’s first senior living offering was an elective course launched in 2011. The Assisted Living Federation of America acknowledged the SHBM in 2012 with the Best of the Best Award in the category of human resources and staff development, recognizing the school’s efforts to advance business excellence in the field of senior living. The SHBM also added an online senior living certificate that is currently being revised to meet the needs of industry.

“Senior living companies came to us because they wanted people with a hospitality mindset who can enhance a service model, versus a skilled nursing or a medical model,” said Swanger. “They loved the fact that we are a hospitality school in an accredited college of business. There are many hospitality programs across the country and even more worldwide. But if you look at four-year degree programs in hospitality housed in accredited colleges of business, that funnel gets pretty narrow and is probably less than a couple dozen. Our students graduate with very solid business fundamentals. Senior living companies are still businesses, and people have to understand ‘no margin, no mission.’”

Today, the SHBM is among the first to offer a senior living major in an accredited college of business.

Career options in a nearly recession-proof industry

“There is a clear distinction between senior living communities and skilled nursing facilities—commonly called ‘nursing homes.’ Senior living is a social model with a care component,” said Swanger. “There aren’t enough quality managers to meet the growing demand of the businesses. The technology and lifestyle of senior living will present some of the most entrepreneurial career spaces in the future.”

Students receive immersive learning opportunities at senior living communities each semester and are required to earn 1,000 hours of paid industry experience in order to graduate. SHBM senior living management graduates can look forward to a wide variety of career options in managerial positions and expect upward mobility in an industry that is nearly recession proof.

The SHBM continues to work with industry partners through the institute to maintain curricular relevance and increase the number of professionals and students studying senior living management.

Interested students can learn more about the senior living major by contacting Darcie Bagott, program coordinator, Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living, at 509‑335‑6387, or darcie.bagott@wsu.edu.

Media contacts:

  • Nancy Swanger, founding director, Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living, 509‑335‑2443, swanger@wsu.edu
  • Sue McMurray, assistant director of communications, Carson College of Business, 509‑335‑7578, sue.mcmurray@wsu.edu