NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) -
Until recently, anyone over 60 spotted around a university campus was presumed to be either a professor or an aging alum riding a nostalgia trip.
But walk the streets of almost any college town these days and you'll see that the demographic landscape has changed: Seniors by the score are now mixed in among the dewy coeds, attending classes, queuing up for cultural offerings and just soaking in the energy.
It shouldn't come as a surprise. For a large number of retirees, easy access to cultural events and educational opportunities has always been at least as important as year-round sunshine and well-groomed golf courses.
And a collegiate environment has even more appeal in the new era of retirement, in which it's increasingly important to continue expanding your skills and knowledge base well beyond traditional retirement age.
Many universities have responded by creating academic courses specifically for seniors.
A decade ago, only a few dozen colleges offered such programs; today, over 300 institutions do.
Other schools allow seniors to audit classes at little or no cost, fund community programs for older folks, and even build housing for them.
That's the reason we focused this year's search for the Best Places to Retire on college towns (see the selections here).
To come up with our list, we looked for vibrant college-centered communities that also offer at least some of the important attributes of traditional retirement havens, like a reasonable cost of living, lower-than-average taxes and access to topnotch medical care.
We passed over some much beloved college towns in favor of relatively undiscovered ones, not just because you'll have no problem thinking of the Madisons, Boulders and Berkeleys yourselves, but also because your retirement dollars will tend to stretch further in less-well-known spots.
After our initial research narrowed the field, we visited each town on the shortlist to assess educational opportunities available to seniors; check out the local cultural and recreational highlights; and, most important, get the insider view from recent arrivals who'd already chosen to make these locales their retirement home.
See this year's 5 best places.
Plus: State-by-state breakout on more than 1,300 places.