Southern Oregon University this fall will offer students a degree option in the growing field of caring for retirees.

Southern Oregon University this fall will offer students a degree option in the growing field of caring for retirees.

Called Management of Aging Services, the program is being developed in partnership with Pacific Retirement Services, operators of Rogue Valley Manor.

It will be a bachelor's degree in business with an aging services option and will educate students in development, construction, marketing, financial management and leadership of senior living facilities and other organizations. It will also include psychology courses on aging and dying.

"SOU is our biggest source of new management people. We take on eight or nine a year in internship programs here," said PRS President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Becker. "This will attract a broader spectrum of students who want to come to SOU. For SOU, it means the opportunity to be a program of national appeal."

A nonprofit headquartered in Medford, PRS has more than 2,000 employees and serves 4,850 seniors in 54 retirement communities around the nation. It has nine Continuing Care Retirement Communities, including the Manor. It is adding 1,000 residents soon, with communities in Portland, Seattle, Florida and Texas.

PRS will donate a visiting professor to the new aging option degree, with classes to be held at the Higher Education Center in Medford this fall, said Becker. Graduates could access careers throughout the PRS or other organizations, but Becker said most would likely prefer to remain in the region.

SOU Business School Dean Dave Harris called the new program "a win-win-win because graduates have access to partners in the program, senior centers will get the opportunity to add value to the organization quickly and SOU will attract more outstanding students to get on the aging career track."

"Aging services is a tremendous growth area and there's a huge demand for managers and leaders," said Harris, noting that the program, as with many others at SOU, was developed from focus groups with executives and managers in the field, so that curricula are updated and shaped to create industry-ready graduates.

Among SOU graduates now working with PRS is Torsten Hirsche, who majored in hospitality and tourism management. He's now pursuing a master's degree and his education has enabled him to be PRS regional vice president for operations, he said.

"It prepared me really well," he said. "The faculty brought in a lot of real-life experience from the industry and it expanded my horizons. I learn real, actual management challenges — and our industry is a real growth field," said Hirsche.

SOU business graduates come to PRS "already armed with expertise and knowledge and won't have to start a long orientation," said Sharon Pewtress, PRS administrator for organizational development.

Students interested in the degree may call Harris at 552-6483 or e-mail him at harrisda@sou.edu. The department's Web site is www.sou.edu/business.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.