Colleges & Universities

A Look at Trends in Colleges & Universities

By Emily Tipping

Campus recreation, sports and fitness facilities act as more than a place for students to go play and work out, often serving as a community hub for the student populations they serve. Recreation centers and sports facilities are often the centerpiece of higher education campuses, and can provide not only an outlet for students to get a much needed-break and exercise time, but also act as a recruitment tool, attracting potential students with their rock climbing walls, leisure pools, high-tech fitness centers, juice bars and more.

Many colleges and universities combine functions at their recreation centers, adding in wellness and student health services. It is a natural fit, as these highly used facilities serve the mental and physical health of the student body. Adding health services to the mix ensures that students have a central hub where they can prevent illness and injury, as well as treating it.

College and university respondents were most likely to report in from the Midwest. More than a quarter (25.9 percent) of these respondents were from that region. This was followed by the South Central region, where 20.6 percent of college respondents call home. Another 19.6 percent were from the South Atlantic, and 17.4 percent were from the Northeast. Some 15.6 percent were from the West, and 0.9 percent were from outside the United States.

While respondents from all industry segments were most likely to work in suburban communities, college respondents were most likely from urban areas. Some 37 percent of college respondents said they worked in urban areas. Another 34.8 percent were from suburban communities. And, 28.2 percent were from rural areas.

Respondents from colleges and universities were more likely to operate a smaller number of facilities than respondents from parks and recreation organizations. In fact, more than two-thirds (67.4 percent) of college and university respondents said they operate three or fewer facilities. This compares with 37.9 percent of parks respondents who operate three or fewer facilities. Just about a third (32.9 percent) of college and university respondents said they operate just a single facility.

Respondents from colleges and universities were less likely than respondents from other industry segments to indicate that they partnered with other organizations. Still, a majority (78.3 percent) of college respondents do form such partnerships, down from 81.5 percent last year. The most common partnerships were found with other colleges and universities. More than half (53.1 percent) of college respondents said they partnered with other colleges. They were followed by local schools (38.8 percent); state government (35.9 percent); local government (29.8 percent); and nonprofit organizations (25.6 percent.)


Fitness was near the top of planned programs, and fitness centers were among the top planned features for college facilities. Many respondents were concerned about their ability to keep students' interest with new programs, and some worried about the amount of time students spend interacting with technology versus being outside.

More than a quarter (26.4 percent) of college respondents with plans to add features in the next three years will be adding fitness centers. And fitness programs are the No. 2 planned program.

Many of the other programs found on the list of top 10 planned additions also focus on keeping students healthy through fitness. These include mind-body/balance programs, personal training, and nutrition and diet counseling.

Revenues & Budgets

More than half of college respondents are seeing steady revenues year over year. Nearly six in 10 (59 percent) said their revenues in 2010 were the same as 2009. Some 57.2 percent said they expect revenues to hold steady from 2010 to 2011, and 57 percent expect revenues to remain the same from 2011 to 2012. Around a third of college respondents are expecting to see an increase in 2011 (32.2 percent) and 2012 (33.7 percent). (See Figure 44.)

Like other respondents, those from colleges and universities saw a substantial drop in their operating budgets from 2009 to 2010. College respondents last year reported that their operating budgets for fiscal 2009 averaged $1,827,000. This year, respondents reported a 28.5 percent decrease to an average operating expenditure of $1,307,000. From here, they again expect expenditures to rise, at a clip of 3.1 percent between 2010 and 2012, to reach an average of $1,347,000.

More than half (54.6 percent) of college respondents said that the number of people using their facilities had increased from 2009 to 2010. Even more—57.2 percent—expect to see an increase from 2010 to 2011, and 54.6 percent are projecting an increase from 2011 to 2012. Very few college respondents saw a decrease from 2009 to 2010 (5.1 percent), and even fewer are projecting decreasing usage for 2011 (3.1 percent) and 2012 (3.8 percent). (See Figure 45.)

College respondents were less likely than many other respondents to have taken measure to reduce their operating expenditures. While 90.3 percent of all respondents had taken such measures, 84.7 percent of those from colleges and universities had done so. The most common measure they had taken was to improve energy efficiency. Nearly half (48.3 percent) said they had improved energy efficiency to reduce operating expenditures. Nearly a third (32.7 percent) said they had reduced staff. More than a quarter of college respondents also indicated they had cut programs or services (27 percent), increased fees (26.7 percent), put construction plans on hold (26.4 percent) or cut their hours of operation (25.8 percent).

While staffing cuts had been undertaken by nearly one-third of college respondents as a measure to reduce operating costs, only 4.9 percent said they had plans to reduce staff in 2011. More college respondents this year indicated that they had plans to add staff than last year. Last year, 15.4 percent said they would add staff in 2010. This year, 22.4 percent are planning to add staff in 2011. For the most part, respondents expect staff levels to remain constant, with 72.7 percent indicating there would be neither more staff added or staff reductions.

Building Plans

Many have pointed to an arms race of sorts in recent years, as higher education facilities aimed to outdo one another by building new recreational sports facilities to meet the needs of existing students and boost recruitment for potential students.

In fact, according to an article by Kent Blumenthal of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) for Planning for Higher Education, a 2008 NIRSA survey showed that almost $4 billion in campus recreational sports facility construction was either already under way or was planned at 174 colleges and universities between 2008 and 2013. Of these projects, 96 were to be new construction, 62 would be additions, and 62 would be renovations. The average project cost at that time was around $20.8 million.

Whether the economic downturn led to a slowdown in these plans or not remains to be seen, but according to this year's Industry Report survey, college respondents were slightly more likely to indicate they had no construction plans over the next three years. Last year, 43.9 percent reported they had no plans, while this year 46.4 percent have no plans. That said, more than half are planning facility construction, with 22 percent reporting they will build new, 24.5 percent planning to add to their existing facilities, and 35.9 percent planning renovations. (See Figure 46.)

The average amount college respondents are planning to spend on their facility construction was $7,681,000, 94.9 percent more than the average for all respondents.

The top features currently included in college and university respondents' facilities include: locker rooms, fitness centers, indoor sports courts (i.e., basketball courts, volleyball courts and more), exercise studio rooms (for aerobics, yoga, etc.), natural turf sports fields (for football, soccer, baseball, etc.), bleachers sand seating, classrooms and meeting rooms, outdoor sports courts (for basketball, tennis, etc.), indoor aquatic facilities, and indoor running tracks.

While 41.5 percent of all respondents reported that they had plans to add more features to their facilities over the next three years, just a third (33 percent) of college respondents said they had plans to do so. Their most commonly planned additions included:

  1. Synthetic turf sports fields (30.9 percent of those who plan to make additions)
  2. Fitness center (26.4 percent)
  3. Climbing wall (25.5 percent)
  4. Indoor running track (25.5 percent)
  5. Exercise studio rooms (24.5 percent)
  6. Classrooms and meeting rooms (21.8 percent)
  7. Natural turf fields (21.8 percent)
  8. Concessions (20.9 percent)
  9. Locker rooms (20.9 percent)
  10. Indoor sports courts (20 percent)

Fitness-related programs were among the most popular programs currently offered by college respondents at their facilities. The majority (83.6 percent) said they offer fitness programming. More than two-thirds (68.8 percent) also said they provide mind-body/balance programs such as yoga and tai chi.

Fifty percent or more also offer educational programs (63.5 percent), adult sports teams (58.6 percent), sports tournaments or races (57.9 percent), swimming (50.3 percent) and individual sports activities (50 percent). Nearly half (48.7 percent) also offer personal training, and 44.1 percent offer aquatic exercise programs.

More than a quarter (27.6 percent) of college respondents reported that they have plans to add programs at their facilities over the next three years. Their most popular choices include:

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

Climbing Walls

More than a quarter (25.5 percent) of college respondents with plans to add features to their facilities over the next three years indicated that they will be adding climbing walls. And climbing programs were No. 6 on the list of planned program additions.

For all ages over 6, climbing saw increased participation from 2009 to 2010 according to an outdoor participation report from the Outdoor Foundation. The total increase year-over-year was 10.6 percent.

Manufacturers offer a range of options, and even provide the ability to refurbish an existing wall by applying a new surfacing over the existing wall.

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