Feature Article - June 2007
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Campus Recreation

A Look at Trends in Recreation at Colleges and Universities

Millions of parents pack their young-adult children up every year to send them off to colleges or universities across the country to further their education, but further educating their young minds goes far beyond the classroom to include their entire campus life experience. Recreation and sports activities are just one part of that experience, and while critics may complain that some of the newer, impressive recreation facilities being built on campuses across the country are contributing to a rise in the cost of a higher education, smart administrators understand the real value of providing these kinds of facilities. Recreation and sports facilities on campus aid recruitment, contribute to alumni involvement down the road, provide good employment options for students and, most importantly, take higher education, well, higher.

"Those who are in campus administration who are enlightened understand that it's not just about putting student in an academic setting in the classroom for a few hours. It's about their entire higher education experience—how they'll develop, whether they'll become good citizens, good alums, whether they'll be educated and have a successful history at that institution," said Kent Blumenthal, executive director of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA). "How can you isolate or excerpt a student from the rest of their environment?"

Blumenthal compared the major university to a caregiver that essentially helps provide guidance to students, many of whom are away from home for the first time.

"Universities have an obligation to provide safe and healthy environments," he said. "So at some level, the expenditures on these campuses for health and fitness centers are as much for the parents as they are for the students. It gives them peace of mind, as well as providing fitness and wellness to the students. Healthier students also translate into more educated students, students with a greater capacity to learn, greater stamina, greater self-image and so on. That's what it's about."

As the facilities grow and improve, more people—students and faculty alike—are using them. Colleges and universities differed very little from the general survey population in terms of increases in the number of people using their facilities. From 2005 to 2006, more than 63 percent said that number of people using their facilities had increased, and another third saw no change. Less than 3 percent said there was a decrease in usage that year. From 2006 to 2007, nearly two-thirds project an increase, and from 2007 to 2008, nearly seven in 10 respondents project an increase in the number of people visiting their facilities.