Guest Column - October 2013
Find a printable version here


Higher Qualifications
The Implications of College & Graduate Degrees on the Recreation Industry

By Raymond DeWire

As the American economy has struggled over the past decade, we have seen many trends that have affected the leisure and recreation industry. One of the most significant is the cuts in funding or spending, as recreation is not always classified as a necessity. These cuts have put more financial, managerial and supervisory workload on the average recreation professional.

As positions remain vacant and organizations opt for management strategy overhauls over hiring more employees, many young professionals are choosing college and graduate school over throwing their resume in an insurmountable pile of applications. The question then arises: How important are college and professional degrees in the recreation profession? Are they necessary at all? What advantages might they provide in the future?

Today, more than ever, people are continuing their education past high school. According to the 2010 United States Census, since 1980, enrollment in post-secondary education, which includes public and private universities, colleges, professional schools, and junior and teachers' colleges, has risen by more than 8 million students. The recreation industry is seeing an influx of workers with these accomplishments. This can cause more competition for vacant positions, and can also lead to a more well-rounded workforce.

According to the U.S. Census, bachelor's degrees in parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies have grown by more than 550 percent since 1980. When sport, recreation and leisure post-secondary degrees had just been created and formalized or were still nonexistent at most universities, many recreation professionals started their career with no college education or with degrees in business, management or other non-specific fields of study. Additionally, since 1980, individuals receiving master's and professional degrees in parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies has risen by 745 percent. Universities are increasingly taking advantage of the growth in recreation, sports and fitness by offering academic programs related to those fields. This benefits the recreation field as it provides a constant stream of highly educated prospective employees. Unfortunately, it can be detrimental to those who work in recreation without this level of education or to those trying to enter the field with little to no recreation experience (both academically and practically) as it hinders their ability to advance within an organization.

These trends can be seen in the current hiring processes of recreation organizations as almost all positions will require, at minimum, a bachelor's degree or three to five years of experience. For those entering the recreation field, bachelor's degrees seem to be absolutely necessary. As experienced recreation professionals retire, organizations may begin to require bachelor's and master's degrees for employment without the option for work experience alone.

College and professional degrees provide workers with the skills and tools necessary to do a variety of tasks on a daily basis. Many recreation professionals have had to manage budget cuts, which have required them to take on a greater workload. For example, a recreation facility may have had a recreation programmer, budgeting specialist, legal counsel and instructors. Today organizations may have only one employee doing what used to be done by several. Graduate and professional degrees will give young professionals exposure to all of those areas.

The recreation field can be broken up into two very distinct levels. The first level, and the level that encompasses the majority of recreation employees, can be described as the "hands on" employees or supervisors. These employees are the ones whose day-to-day job includes developing and implementing successful programs. These are the people who are instructing, supervising and providing financially viable and market-appropriate programs that are in line with their organization's vision and mission.

The second level of recreation employees are those in upper-level positions who ensure the organization's mission and purpose are being implemented. This includes people such as executive officers, financial directors and regional directors. Advanced educational degrees can help employees understand the overall implication of their organization and its actions and enable them to successfully lead their organization.

In a time when employees are asked to do more with less, serious consideration must be given to the value of a collegiate or graduate education related to the recreation industry. While higher education is not dispositive for success, combined with practical work experience, this can maximize an employee's effectiveness.

Raymond DeWire is an associate aquatics director at the Ridgewood YMCA in Ridgewood, N.J. DeWire has a bachelor's degree in Sport and Recreation Management from Niagara University and a master's degree in Sport Management and Coaching Leadership from St. John's University. He has worked in the recreation field for public, private and nonprofit organizations