Colleges & Universities

A Look at Trends in Colleges & Universities

Many colleges and universities continue to make efforts to improve their recreational offerings, as recreation and wellness centers have become a useful recruitment and retention tool, as well as a way of serving students beyond the classroom. Anecdotal evidence shows that many schools have switched from developing all-new facilities to making renovations to improve their existing facilities. This has sometimes been done to stunning effect, as evidenced in the 2012 Innovative Architecture and Design Awards, where we showcased several winning university recreation facilities that completely transformed existing spaces into showstoppers.

Nearly one-fifth (19.2 percent) of respondents in 2012 were from colleges and universities. This is slightly up from last year, when 16.5 percent of respondents were representing colleges and universities.

Compared with respondents across the board, college and university respondents were slightly more likely to be from the Northeast and South Central regions. While 17.8 percent of all respondents were in the Northeast, 22.7 percent of college respondents were from this region, and though 13.6 percent of all respondents were from the South Central region, 16.5 percent of college respondents were from South Central states. There was virtually no difference between the number of general survey respondents and college respondents who were from the Midwest. Some 28.9 percent of college respondents call the Midwest their home, compared with 28.7 percent of all respondents. College respondents were less likely than others to be from the South Atlantic states (16.5 percent vs. 18.8 percent of all respondents) or the West (15.5 percent vs. 20.6 percent).

Respondents from colleges and universities were far more likely to hail from urban communities when compared with the general survey population. While around a quarter (25.3 percent) of all survey respondents called urban communities home, more than a third (36.5 percent) of college respondents were from urban areas. Conversely, they were less likely to be from suburban communities (34.7 percent of college respondents vs. 41.2 percent of all respondents) or rural areas (28.8 percent vs. 33.5 percent).

A majority of college and university respondents—59.5 percent—indicated that they were from public organizations, while nearly a third (32.6 percent) said they worked for private nonprofit schools. Another 7.2 percent said they worked for private, for-profit schools.

Respondents from colleges and universities generally managed fewer facilities than many other survey respondents. On average, college respondents manage 3.7 facilities. They were more likely than the general survey population to report that they handle three or fewer facilities. While 58.8 percent of all respondents manage three or fewer, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of college respondents manage three or fewer facilities. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they were far less likely to report that they managed 10 or more facilities, with just 5.7 percent of college respondents managing 10 or more facilities vs. 17.6 percent of all respondents.

While college and university respondents were slightly less likely than those from other facility types to report that they partnered with other organizations, colleges were selected as one of the most common partners by all facilities. Some 83.6 percent of college and university respondents form partnerships with outside organizations, compared with 86.1 percent of all respondents. Colleges were the fourth most common partner selected by organizations that do partner with other facilities. More than three-quarters of respondents (34.7 percent) said they partnered with colleges and universities.

Revenues & Budgets

College and university respondents reported average operating expenditures that were lower than the average general respondent in fiscal 2011, though the difference lessens over the next two years. In fiscal 2011, college respondents had an average operating budget of $1,490,000, 4 percent less than the general survey population's average operating budget. However, college respondents expect their budgets to increase by 9.3 percent between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2013, compared with just 5.1 percent for all facility types. Thus, in fiscal 2013, college respondents' average projected budget of $1,628,000 is just 0.2 percent lower than the projected average for all facility types.

Respondents from colleges and universities were more likely to report steady revenues over time, compared with respondents overall. While 42.2 percent of all respondents said their revenues had held steady from 2010 to 2011, 55.7 percent of colleges and universities saw steady revenues in that time frame. They were less likely than general survey respondents to report either increases or decreases in revenue over time, with around a third of colleges reporting an increase in 2011 (32.8 percent vs. 37 percent of all respondents), and a little more than a third expecting increases in 2012 (34.6 percent vs. 41.5 percent) and in 2013 (36.2 percent vs. 42.1 percent). At the same time, they were less likely to see decreasing revenue, with just 11.5 percent of colleges reporting decreases in 2011 (vs. 20.8 percent of all respondents), 14.7 percent projecting decreases in 2012 (vs. 15.7 percent of all respondents) and 8.5 percent projecting decreases in 2013 (vs. 10.8 percent of all respondents). (See Figure 44.)

At the same time that their revenues are predominantly holding steady and operating budgets are increasing slightly, more than half of college and university respondents are seeing increases in the number of people using their facilities. Some 52.8 percent said there was an increase in users from 2010 to 2011, while 56.3 percent projected further increases in 2012, and 55.1 percent projected an increase in 2013. (See Figure 45.) This makes colleges and universities slightly more likely than other survey respondents both to have seen increases in 2011 and to expect increases in 2012. At the same time, college respondents were less likely than others to see decreasing usage in all the years covered by the survey.

College respondents were least likely to report that they had taken any action in the past year to reduce their operating expenditures. However, a majority (81.5 percent) still said they had taken some action in order to lower operating costs, slightly fewer than had taken such actions in 2011 (84.7 percent).

Among the top actions undertaken at colleges and universities, there was a slight increase in the percentage of college respondents who had worked to improve energy efficiency in 2012 compared with 2011, when 48.3 percent had done so. Also showing increases were: increasing fees (33.2 percent vs. 26.7 percent in 2011); putting construction or renovation plans on hold (27.7 percent vs. 26.4 percent); and reducing hours of operation (26.9 percent vs. 25.8 percent). Actions that were taken by fewer college respondents in 2012 than in 2011 included reducing staff (31.9 percent vs. 32.7 percent).

Colleges were far less likely to be planning staff reductions than any other facility type. Only 1.8 percent of college respondents said they had such plans, compared with 7.1 percent of all respondents. They also were among those more likely to be planning to hire new staff in 2012, with 21.8 percent of college respondents indicating they had plans to add staff.

On average, those with plans to hire or add more staff in 2012 were planning to increase their head count by 14, dominated by part-time workers. College respondents planned to add nine part-time workers, on average, as well as 1.2 full-time employees, 1.1 seasonal employees and one volunteer.

Building Plans

As mentioned previously, colleges and universities that are building recreation and sports facilities anecdotally seem to be focusing more on renovation in recent years. Comparing construction planning data from this year's survey with past years would seem to bear this out.

The percentage of college respondents who have plans for construction of any kind fell from 57.8 percent in 2009 to 53.6 percent in 2011. This year's survey saw a slight increase in the percentage of college respondents who are planning construction of any kind, with 54.6 percent indicating they have plans. Following a similar track, the number of college respondents planning new facilities fell from 25 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2011, before showing slight recovery again this year, to 23.6 percent. At the same time, the number planning renovations has increased from 35.1 percent in 2009 to 35.9 percent in 2011, and 36.9 percent this year. (See Figure 46.)

While the amount budgeted for construction saw a slight increase for all survey respondents in 2012, after falling for the past couple of years, college and university respondents reported another slight drop from 2011. In 2011, college and university respondents planned to spend $7,681,000 on their construction plans. This year, that number fell by 1 percent to $7,605,000 at the same time that the amount planned by the general survey population increased by 7.2 percent. That said, colleges and universities plan to spend 80 percent more on their construction plans than the general survey population, which reports an average construction budget of $4,225,000.

There were only slight changes in the features included at college respondents' facilities in 2012 compared to 2011. The top 10 features and amenities currently found in their facilities include: locker rooms; indoor sports courts for sports such as basketball, volleyball, etc.; fitness centers; bleachers and seating; classrooms and meeting rooms; natural turf sports fields for sports such as football, soccer, baseball, etc.; exercise studio rooms; outdoor sports courts for sports like basketball and tennis; concession areas; and indoor running tracks. Concession areas rose this year to take the place of indoor aquatic facilities, which were among the top 10 included amenities in 2011.

More than a third (36.4 percent) of college respondents reported that they plan to add features and amenities at their facilities over the next three years. Their most commonly planned additions include:

  1. Synthetic turf sports fields (planned by 35.9 percent of those who intend to add features and amenities)
  2. Locker rooms (22.5 percent)
  3. Climbing walls (20.4 percent)
  4. Fitness center (19.7 percent)
  5. Bleachers and seating (19 percent)
  6. Classrooms and meeting rooms (17.6 percent)
  7. Natural turf sports fields (16.2 percent)
  8. Exercise studio rooms (14.8 percent)
  9. Concessions (14.1 percent)
  10. Outdoor sports courts; disc golf course; and park structures (all planned by 12.7 percent)


Once again, fitness-related programming was the most commonly offered program at college respondents' facilities, though slightly fewer respondents in 2012 said they offer this type of program (79.6 percent vs. 83.6 percent in 2011). More than half also said they provide mind-body/balance programs such as yoga, tai chi and martial arts (65.8 percent); educational programs (57.6 percent); adult sports teams (54.9 percent); sports tournaments and races (53.5 percent); and individual sports such as running and swimming clubs (50.8 percent). Other commonly offered programs include swimming programs (49.2 percent); personal training (47.8 percent); aquatic exercise programs (41.6 percent); and day camps and summer camps (40.8 percent).

Nearly one-quarter (24.6 percent) of college respondents indicated that they have plans to expand their programming with more options over the next three years. Their most commonly planned program additions include:

  1. Nutrition and diet counseling (up from the No. 9 position in 2011)
  2. Fitness programs (no change)
  3. Mind-body/balance programs (no change)
  4. Day camps and summer camps (down from No. 1)
  5. Personal training (no change)
  6. Individual sports activities (up from No. 7)
  7. Educational programs (down from No. 4)
  8. Aquatic exercise programs (did not appear in last year's top 10 planned programs)
  9. Climbing programs (down from No. 6)
  10. Sport-specific training (down from No. 8)

Nutrition and diet counseling saw a dramatic rise from the ninth most commonly planned program in 2011 to No. 1 on this year's list. This may perhaps reflect a growing focus on wellness initiatives on college campuses, and a desire to ensure students learn an active lifestyle as they pursue their other courses of study. Not appearing on this year's list was sports tournaments and races, as aquatic exercise programs have risen to appear on the list for the first time.

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