Feature Article - June 2007
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Campus Recreation

Campus Work

Among survey respondents, the third most common issue of concern, both now and within the next three years, was staffing issues. More than 50 percent of respondents from colleges and universities said staffing was a major concern for their facility.

Blumenthal said he believes that the expectations of college and university administrators are going to increase. "I think their expectations of performance of their employees, of delivery of services, of expectations to perpetually meet student needs will accelerate," he said. "Having said that, I think that's going to translate into the pressure being on these professionals to stay on top of cutting-edge knowledge, information and technology—to really focus on skills and aptitudes that people have, which will then translate into taking training or expectations for certifications to a higher level."

As the schools compete for the best students, faculty and staff, Blumenthal explained, they'll need to stay on the cutting edge in many areas.

"Our job as professionals who offer training and certification and the like is to make sure that the staffs and professionals who operate and manage these multimillion-dollar facilities have the right knowledge and tools so their student bodies, their faculty and their staff are well-served."

Colleges and universities employ substantially fewer full-time, seasonal and volunteer staff workers than the average survey respondent. In fact, between now and 2008, colleges and universities are actually projecting a 3.5 percent decrease in the average number of full-time staff employed at their facilities. A 9.4 percent decrease in seasonal staff is also projected. These facilities seem to be planning to replace the lost staffers with part-time help, as a 4.9 percent increase in part-time employees is projected for the same period. Because they rely so heavily on student staffers, universities and colleges employ 73.1 percent more part-time workers than the average survey respondent, which presents unique challenges—and solutions—that others can learn from.

"Campus recreation is the largest employer of the students of any campus entity," Blumenthal said. "What does that mean? We're talking residence, student unions, foodservice—it's the largest employer. Campus recreation professionals have taken that to a whole other level. What they offer to the students they employ are opportunities while they're in school to learn leadership skills, customer service skills, financial management skills, facility management and physical plant skills, programming skills, supervisory skills and hiring skills. So when it comes to what does the facility offer, it offers recreation and fitness, but it also offers huge opportunities as a training ground for people to enter the workforce with all the right skills for a service economy. They're working with people all the time."

The positive benefits of student employment go both ways, Blumenthal said, because the students working in the campus recreation facilities are not necessarily majoring in kinesiology, sports administration, sports marketing or recreation.

"What happens is, so many of these people, once they become juniors or seniors, or once they graduate, say 'I like this. This is a big responsibility. I want to stay in campus recreation. That's what's led to a large number of graduate assistant programs offered through campus recreation," Blumenthal explained. "So students who may graduate in some other discipline may go on to get a graduate degree in campus recreation. It's an asset."

This relationship pays off even further in the long term, Blumenthal explained, because campus recreation helps breed loyalty. "They breed people who have an affinity for that school, and that may translate into financial giving down the years," he said.

What's more, because campuses can expect turnover from year to year, they are able to create outstanding training opportunities for student employees.

"Think about that," Blumenthal emphasized. "Now what's the value of campus recreation? It goes beyond the student body. It goes to the people helping to support that service who are students. Then take it one step further. Look at all the advocates for campus recreation out there because of the high student employment that the campus is able to breed with these facilities. It's the greatest thing a campus can do."

In addition to educational opportunities, college students employed at college sports, fitness and recreation facilities can earn certifications to apply to further their careers once they are out of school. Some 85.5 percent of colleges and universities require certification of some kind for their staff members. The most common certifications required include lifeguard certifications, personal training certifications, CPR and first aid certifications, aquatics management or pool management certifications, coaching certifications and climbing certifications.