A Look at Trends in Colleges & Universities


n colleges and universities across the country, recreation centers offer a way to entice new students and keep existing students fit and entertained, while sporting facilities provide an outlet for more serious athletes.

In fact, a focus on educating students and instilling in them a lifelong commitment to wellness is a central mission of many campus facilities.

One respondent said general fitness and wellness was the top concern, adding: "Exposing and educating university students to the overall importance of wellness and lifestyle choices" is crucial.

Another respondent was concerned about the general fitness level of the students. "Being a university, the access to and level of fitness of the incoming students is poor," this respondent said. "We want to change that lifestyle so that they become lifelong fitness enthusiasts."

Nearly one-third (32.7 percent) of respondents from colleges and universities reported in from the Midwest. Smaller numbers of respondents in this category came from other regions of the country: 17.6 percent of college/university respondents were from the Northeast; 17.3 percent were from the South Atlantic; 16.7 percent were from the South Central region; and 15.5 percent were from the West.

Respondents from colleges and universities were more likely to be from urban areas than from suburban or rural areas. Some 40.2 percent of these respondents said they worked in urban areas, while 30.1 percent were from suburban areas, and 29.8 percent were from rural areas.

Typically college and university respondents indicated that they manage between one and three facilities—about two-thirds (66.4 percent) of these respondents said they manage this smaller number of facilities. Another 17.9 percent said they manage four or five facilities.

College and university respondents were slightly less likely than other survey respondents to report that they had formed partnerships with other organizations. That said, a majority—81.5 percent—said they had formed partnerships. The most common partners among colleges and universities were other colleges and universities: 59.1 percent of college/university respondents said they had partnered with other colleges and universities. These were followed by local schools and school districts (37.3 percent of college/university respondents had partnered with them); state government (30.6 percent); local government (25.5 percent); and nonprofit organizations (23.9 percent).

Budgets and Usage

While many respondents ended up being more likely to report that they had seen an increase in revenues in 2009 compared with last year's respondents, this was not the case for colleges and universities. In 2009, 35.9 percent of college/university respondents projected an increase in revenues in 2009 over 2008, but this year, just 29.7 percent reported that such an increase occurred. Likewise, respondents were less likely than expected to report an increase in usage in 2009 over 2008, though 60.1 percent ended up reporting such an increase.

Budget concerns are still a primary concern for college and university respondents. One said the top concern on campus was "having enough of a budget to continue to operate in a safe and efficient level that our University is accustomed to operate."

Another cited a change in the way the facility was funded as a concern. This respondent was "assuming responsibility for all operational and maintenance costs for the facilities (previously supported centrally through the university)."

Many college and university respondents were concerned about the impact budget cuts might have on repair and maintenance schedules. "With university budgets so tight, we will have to be more creative on repairing and maintaining our equipment and facilities," one said.

More than half of respondents from colleges and universities are expecting their revenues to hold steady this year and next, with nearly a third expecting an increase. (See Figure 45.)

At the same time, though, many are expecting the number of people using their facilities to grow in this time period. Some 57.2 percent are expecting growth in 2010, and 54.2 percent are expecting it in 2011. Few are expecting to see decreases in those years. (See Figure 46.)

While few respondents across the board are anticipating any rise in their operating budgets in 2010, colleges and universities are an exception, though the increase they are projecting is very slight—just 0.5 percent from an average operating budget in 2009 of $1,827,000 to an average in 2010 of $1,836,000.

Their annual operating cost is lower than the across-the-board average for 2009 by 6 percent, but with the increases these respondents are projecting over the next two years, by 2011, their projected average operating expense will be 2.6 percent higher than the across-the-board average.

Respondents from colleges and universities were more likely than many other respondents to report that they had taken no action to reduce costs at their facilities. That said, a solid majority—86.9 percent—said they had taken action.

More than half (54.9 percent) of college/university respondents said they had tried to improve their energy efficiency. More than one-third (36.6 percent) said they had reduced staff. Other measures taken included increasing fees (31.7 percent), putting construction on hold (30.8 percent); cutting hours of operation (29.3 percent); and cutting programs or services (27.1 percent). They were much less likely than other respondents to shorten their season (just 7 percent) or close facilities (8.8 percent).

Like most respondents, the majority of colleges and universities were aiming to hold their staffing levels steady in 2010. Just over three-quarters (75.2 percent) said they were maintaining their current staff levels this year, while 9.1 percent were planning cuts. Nearly 16 percent were planning to add staff.

College/university respondents reported that they currently employ an average of 112.3 workers, and those who are planning to add staff were planning, on average, 16.1 additional employees. These were dominated by part-time workers (12, on average), likely student employees in these types of facilities.

Buildings & Growth

Respondents from colleges and universities were less likely than many others to have plans for construction. That said, more than half (56.1 percent) did have plans for construction over the next three years. (See Figure 47.) This is a slight decrease from last year, when 57.8 percent had plans for construction. As in most other facilities, these were dominated by renovation plans. More than a third (34.7 percent) of college/university respondents were planning renovations to their existing facilities, a slight drop from 2009, when 35.1 percent were planning renovations. Just under a quarter were planning new facilities (24.6 percent) or additions to their existing facilities (24.3 percent).

College and university respondents who were planning construction indicated that the average amount planned was $8,568,000, a drop of 13.1 percent from last year, but still 17.7 percent higher than the average amount planned by college respondents in 2008 ($7,278,900). And, college respondents are the biggest spenders when it comes to construction, among all facility types. Their average amount planned is 92.1 percent higher than the across-the-board average.

Among college and university respondents, the top 10 features included in their facilities sheds light on the types of facilities typically included on college campuses:

  1. Indoor sports courts for basketball, volleyball, racquet sports, etc. (Included by 85 percent of college/university respondents who indicated their facilities included features of any kind)
  2. Locker rooms (84.4 percent)
  3. Fitness centers (83.4 percent)
  4. Classrooms/meeting rooms (71.9 percent)
  5. Bleachers and seating (68.4 percent)
  6. Exercise studio rooms (67.8 percent)
  7. Natural turf sports fields (66.9 percent)
  8. Outdoor sports courts (53.8 percent)
  9. Indoor aquatic facilities (48.9 percent)
  10. Concession areas (47.5 percent)

When it comes to expanding their offerings at their facilities, 37 percent of respondents from colleges and universities indicated that they have plans to add more features over the next three years. The most commonly selected additions include: synthetic turf sports fields; locker rooms; exercise studio rooms; bleachers and seating; fitness centers; classrooms and meeting rooms; indoor sports courts; indoor running tracks; concession areas; and climbing walls. Interestingly, when you combine these features together, you get the perfect picture of a fully featured campus recreation center.

Tough Turf

Respondents from colleges and universities were the most likely to indicate that their facilities included synthetic turf sports fields. Nearly one-third (32.2 percent) said they had synthetic turf fields. They also were the most likely to report that they had plans to add more synthetic turf fields over the next three years. Among college respondents who have plans to add any features to their facilities within the next three years, 34.1 percent are planning to add synthetic turf fields.

Synthetic turf can provide many advantages, including extended hours of play, as well as longer seasons. They are popular in areas where space is at a premium, such as the Northeast, as well as in the sunbelt, where the summer sun withers grass, making fields less safe and less playable. In fact, in the Northeast, 21 percent of respondents who have plans to add features in the next three years are planning synthetic turf fields. And, 20.9 percent of those in the South Atlantic states said they had plans for synthetic turf.


Programming offered at the facilities of respondents from colleges and universities differs from the across-the-board results, reflecting the campus culture and the lifestyle desired by college students. In many ways, campus programming matches the programming found in health clubs most closely. The most prominent programs currently included by college and university respondents include:

  1. Fitness programs
  2. Mind-body/balance programs like yoga, tai chi and pilates
  3. Educational programs
  4. Sports tournaments or races
  5. Adult sports teams
  6. Individual sports activities like running clubs, swim clubs, etc.
  7. Personal training
  8. Swimming programming
  9. Day camps and summer camps
  10. Aquatic exercise programs
While college and university respondents were similar to across-the-board responses in terms of their top planned program addition—fitness programs—from there they differ quite a bit. Overall, 29 percent of college and university respondents said they had plans to add more programming options in the next three years. Their top picks were:
  1. Fitness programs (holding at No. 1, the same position it held last year)
  2. Mind-body/balance programs (up from No. 3)
  3. Personal training (up from No. 4)
  4. Aquatic exercise programs (up from No. 8)
  5. Nutrition/diet counseling (same position as last year)
  6. Individual sports activities (up from No. 7)
  7. Educational programs (down from No. 2)
  8. Adult sports teams (not included in last year's top 10)
  9. Active older adult programs (not included last year)
  10. Climbing programs (not included last year)

A few programs that appeared in the top 10 planned programs in 2009 were not on this year's list. These include day camps and summer camps; sport training; and sports tournaments and races.

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