A Look at Trends in Colleges & Universities


espondents from colleges and universities made up 13.2 percent of the total responses to the State of the Industry survey, with the largest number (60.4 percent) hailing from public institutions. Another third (33.4 percent) indicated they work for private schools.

Unlike respondents from parks and school districts, respondents in this category were far more likely to manage fewer facilities, with nearly two-thirds (63.7 percent) saying that they manage three or fewer facilities. Less than one in 10 (6.6 percent) operates 10 or more facilities.

Respondents from colleges and universities were somewhat less likely than those from other facility types to indicate high levels of concern about the impact of the recession on their facilities, and this bears out in terms of these respondents' expectations when it comes to their revenues and operating budgets. Respondents from colleges and universities seem to be expecting more financial stability than respondents in other categories, though there's still no doubt they're feeling a pinch.

More than a fifth (21.7 percent) of college/university respondents said they either felt neutral or were not concerned about the impact the recession might have on their facilities, while slightly more than half (52.4 percent) were "somewhat concerned." Only about a quarter (25.8 percent) said they were "extremely concerned." Compare this to the situation of schools and school districts, where 89 percent of respondents are extremely or somewhat concerned about the economy's impact on their facility, with nearly half (49 percent) feeling "extremely concerned."

Economic Matters

This economic impact plays out in the questions revolving around usage and budgets. College and university respondents were among those most likely to be anticipating increasing usage at their facilities over the next several years. They were the most likely to report increasing usage from 2007 to 2008, with 64.7 percent reporting an increase, and just over a third (34.2 percent) reporting no change.

Likewise, they were most likely to be expecting an increase in 2009, with 63 percent expecting an increase in the number of people using their facilities that year and 31.7 percent projecting no change. From 2009 to 2010, 58.4 percent expect an increase. (See Figure 41.)

These represent substantial increases from last year's survey, when fewer respondents from colleges and universities expected to see increasing usage of their facilities. For example, last year, just 42.8 percent of respondents said they expected usage at their facilities to increase from 2007 to 2008, a difference of nearly 22 percent.

College and university respondents were also the least likely to be expecting a decrease in the number of people using their facilities between 2007 and 2010. Just over 1 percent reported a decrease in 2008, and less than 10 percent are expecting a decrease from 2008 to 2009 (5.3 percent) and 2009 to 2010 (3.7 percent). Compare that with YMCAs, where 17.5 percent reported a decrease in 2008, and nearly 13 percent expect a decrease in 2009.

While respondents from colleges and universities were less likely than average to see an increase in revenues from 2007 to 2008, and were less likely to be expecting an increase between 2008 and 2010, they were also less likely to be expecting a drop in revenues. This indicates a greater level of stability in revenues for these types of facilities, which may help explain why they were also less likely to report a high degree of concern with the current economy.

Synthetic Turf Is Tough

Synthetic turf continues to rise in popularity. This year, it is the most commonly planned addition among colleges and universities, and the second most common among schools and school districts.

While 26 percent of college respondents and 21.5 percent of school respondents indicate they currently include synthetic turf sports fields, 11.4 percent of colleges and 10.7 percent of schools plan to add them in the next three years.

Synthetic turf offers these facilities to increase programming on their fields, and is especially beneficial to those in climates where water resources and space for fields are limited.

Like usage, respondents from colleges and universities this year were far more likely to report revenue increases than last year's respondents. While last year, just over a quarter (27.4 percent) of college/university respondents said they expected an increase in revenues from 2007 to 2008, this year, nearly four in 10 (38.8 percent) reported they had seen such an increase, a difference of 11.4 points. At the same time, respondents in this category were also more likely this year to report or expect decreasing revenue than respondents to last year's survey. While 3 percent last year expected a decrease in revenues from 2007 to 2008, this year, that number rose to 7 percent. (See Figure 42.)

While respondents from colleges and universities were projecting a substantial drop—of more than 11 percent—in their yearly operating expenditures from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2009, they seem to expect to recover quickly in 2010, with operating expenditures that year just under 2 percent lower than in fiscal 2008. Despite the reported drop in operating expenditures, it should be noted that expenditures are still up a great deal from what respondents reported in last year's survey. Last year, college and university respondents were expecting their operating expenditures to climb to $1,421,000 in fiscal 2009. This year's respondents report that number to be 8.7 percent higher at $1,544,000.

Mind-Body Balance Benefits

Mind-body/balance programs like yoga, tai chi and Pilates continue to see gains in popularity. They are among the most common programs at colleges and universities (not to mention other facility types like health clubs and YMCAs), and they are among the top programs these facilities plan to add over the next few years.

And this is good news, because programs like this help students and members manage stress and offer other health benefits as well, according to Ralph La Forge, who presented at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition.

La Forge reviewed recent literature and discovered:

  • While not all forms of yoga meet exercise intensity recommendations for levels of physical activity for improving or maintaining health or cardiovascular fitness,there are still some heart-health benefits.
  • Yoga and tai chi can be easily adapted into warm-up and cool-down routines for traditional exercises.
  • Mind-centered therapies can play an important role in pain management and rehabilitation.

Build It and They Will Come

Colleges and universities commonly use their recreation facilities as campus centerpieces both to attract new students as well as to keep current students happy and healthy. They invest a great deal in these initiatives, and those sizeable investments have not seen much change this year.

While college and university respondents were less likely than average to have construction plans in the next three years, their likelihood to be planning new facilities, additions or renovations has not changed much over last year's survey, with respondents this year just slightly less likely to have plans in place.

Last year, 26 percent of college respondents had plans for new facilities, while this year, just a quarter do. And while 28.6 percent last year were planning additions, this year, 28 percent have such plans. Finally, 37 percent of last year's college respondents were planning renovations, while 35.1 percent this year indicated they have renovations in the works. More than 42 percent of college respondents have no plans in place at this time, compared to 36.7 percent of all respondents. (See Figure 43.)

With all of that said, respondents from colleges and universities have by far the largest budgets for their facility plans, $9,855,000 on average, more than twice the average for all facility types of $4,835,000, and 35.4 percent higher than last year's respondents in this category were planning for construction ($7,278,900).

There was very little change in the types of amenities prominently found among college and university respondents' facilities this year compared to last. More than three- quarters currently feature locker rooms, fitness centers, and indoor sports courts and gymnasia, while more than two-thirds include exercise studios and classrooms and meeting rooms. More than half include bleachers and seating, natural turf sports fields, and outdoor sports courts. Nearly half also include indoor aquatic facilities.

There were, however, some changes when it comes to the additional amenities facility directors are planning to add to college and university facilities over the next three years. Moving up from No. 2 last year to the number-one position this year are synthetic turf sports fields, which 11.4 percent of college and university respondents said they are planning to add in the next three years.

The top 10 amenities planned for addition in the next three years at college and university facilities are:

  1. Synthetic turf sports fields for sports like soccer, football, etc.
  2. Bleachers and seating
  3. Locker rooms
  4. Disc golf courses
  5. Concession areas
  6. Fitness centers
  7. Climbing walls
  8. Exercise studio rooms
  9. Outdoor sports courts for games like tennis and basketball
  10. Indoor running tracks

New to the top 10 planned additions this year are locker rooms, disc golf courses, outdoor sports courts and indoor running tracks, while classrooms and meeting rooms, indoor sports courts, challenge courses and natural turf sports fields fell out of the top 10 from last year.


There was not a great deal of change in the programs offered among college and university respondents. The No. 1 program this year and last was fitness programs, offered by more than 80 percent of college and university respondents. Moving into the second position, from fourth last year, were mind-body balance programs like yoga and Pilates, offered by more than two-thirds (67.3 percent) of respondents. Adult sports teams also moved up, from the tenth position last year to the fourth position this year, with more than half (55.9 percent) of respondents offering this type of program. More than half also offer educational programs (56.7 percent), sports tournaments and races (51.7 percent), and swimming (50.6 percent). Rounding out the top 10 most common programs were individual sports like running, as well as personal training, aquatic exercise, and day camps and summer camps.

For the most part, respondents from colleges and universities who have plans to add more programming plan to add more of the same—with the current most popular programs also being the most commonly planned programs facilities will be adding over the next three years:

  1. Fitness
  2. Education
  3. Mind-body/balance
  4. Personal training
  5. Nutrition/diet counseling
  6. Day camps/summer camps
  7. Individual sports activities
  8. Aquatic exercise
  9. Sport training, such as golf or tennis lessons
  10. Sports tournaments and races

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