Guest Column - May 2008
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What About the Students?

Community Usage of Campus Recreation Facilities

By Walter Kolis, Peter Titlebaum, Ed.D., and Corrine Daprano, Ph.D.

s campus recreation departments across the country often find themselves the alternative to fitness facilities, their community usage is increasing. Memberships and special events held by non-students are crucial to building positive community relations. However, campus recreation departments must not forget that students are the primary market. Students typically pay for facilities through tuition and should be a priority. Community outreach must be fostered while keeping student displacement to a minimum.

Community Memberships

Many campus recreation departments sell memberships to the community. These memberships can boost the university's visibility and provide community wellness opportunities. Campus recreation facilities are an asset, and memberships provide a prime marketing tool.

Community members who are interested in being members of the campus recreation facility should be willing to pay market price. They will buy a membership because they want to be a part of the university atmosphere. Selling memberships to the community can provide a source of revenue. "The additional revenue generated from higher community fees (200 percent of students' rates) allow SDSU to maintain low student rates," said Eric Huth, director of campus recreation at San Diego State University. Campus recreation departments receive funding from a variety of sources and, in some cases, are not expected to be financially profitable.

In new facilities, increasing community usage should be monitored until patterns become evident. Students often are paying increased fees for new facilities and are sensitive to access and availability. The administration must remember the primary tenant. Without students, there would be no campus facility.

Conflicts can arise among community members, staff and students. Community members provide a benefit to staff, giving them experience in dealing with members who are not fellow college students. However, community members, staff and students may experience conflict in terms of dress, expectations of staff, parking and equipment. Some community members may not like the way the students dress or what television stations they watch while exercising. "We exist for our students, period," stated John Cissik, director of fitness and wellness at Texas Woman's University. "Others are welcome to come in, but it is with the understanding that the students are why we are here."

Community members who have an active interest in the university and understand the campus culture will join the facility. Fewer conflicts will occur, as community members will more easily understand and interact with students.

Most campus recreation facilities have hours in which the whole facility is not being utilized. This is where a balance can be achieved. For instance, community memberships can be sold that allow the user access to the facility from opening until 3:00 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. Each campus will have to evaluate its own usage patterns and decide on times that will be available for community users. The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities regulates when community members are allowed access.

Other schools, including Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, use "family hours" during slower times. DePaul University in Chicago uses this strategy very effectively, balancing retired community members who want to use the facility during the day and students who want to use the facility after class.