Moving On Up

Our Seventh Annual Salary Survey

By Emily Tipping

The good news is the economy continues to grow, with unemployment sitting at 6.3 percent in May 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is down from 7.5 percent in May 2013, and a high after the economic downturn of 10 percent in October 2009.

In addition, after a decline from a peak in 2007 of $55,039 to $50,502 in 2011, median household income has finally seen a turnaround, rising to $51,371 in 2012, the latest data available, a 1.7 percent increase.

Our annual salary survey report also revealed a slight increase to average salaries for professionals in the field of recreation, sports and fitness, with salaries rising 1 percent from the average reported in 2013. Here, we break down the answers of more than 2,200 respondents to our annual survey to examine not only how salaries are growing, but also how industry professionals stack up in terms of education, experience and satisfaction with their career paths.

Who Are You?

While no single brush can paint a picture of the typical respondent to our survey questions, if you took the average responses from across the entire survey population, you'd find a 50-year-old white male, employed as a director of a public parks and recreation organization, managing 6.4 facilities in a Midwestern suburb and earning a salary of $67,500. The precise picture of each individual who responded is, of course, far more complex.

Regionally, the largest number of respondents were again from the Midwest, with 31.5 percent of respondents reporting in from that region. They were followed by the West (20.1 percent), the South Atlantic (17 percent), the Northeast (15.4 percent) and the South Central region (15.1 percent). Just 0.9 percent of respondents were located outside of the United States.

Some 38.9 percent of respondents indicated that they work in suburban communities. Another 35.8 percent are in rural areas, and just over a quarter (25.3 percent) said they work in urban areas.

Nearly two-thirds (65.6 percent) of respondents reported from public organizations. The next largest group—23.5 percent—indicated that they were with private nonprofit organizations. Another 10.7 percent said they worked for private, for-profit organizations.

When it comes to the type of organization they're working for, more than one-third (36.5 percent) of respondents indicated that they worked for a parks and recreation district or department. The next largest response came from colleges and universities (16.8 percent), followed by schools and school districts (11.5 percent). The remainder of the respondents reported that they work for community or private recreation and sports centers (7.1 percent); campgrounds, RV parks, and private and youth camps (6.6 percent); YMCAs, YWCAs, JCCs and Boys & Girls Clubs (5.7 percent); sports, health and fitness clubs (2.6 percent); golf or country clubs (2.6 percent); resorts and resort hotels (1.5 percent); military installations (1.2 percent); medical fitness or wellness facilities (0.9 percent); waterparks, theme parks and amusement parks (0.7 percent); ice rinks (0.6 percent); racquet or tennis clubs (0.5 percent); stadiums, arenas and tracks (0.4 percent); corporate recreation and sports centers (0.2 percent); or some other type of facility (3.6 percent).

A majority of respondents—83.4 percent—are 40 years old or older. Just 4.1 percent are less than 29, and another 12.6 percent are 30 to 39 years old. More than a quarter (25.3 percent) of respondents said they were between 40 and 49 years of age. Another 39 percent are 50 to 59 years old, and 19.1 percent are 60 or older.

More than seven in 10 (70.3 percent) of respondents are men, and 29.7 percent are women. A large majority (89.4 percent) are white, down from 90.9 percent in 2013. Just 5.1 percent of respondents are black/non-Hispanic (up from 4 percent in 2013 and 3.2 percent in 2012), while 3.3 percent are Hispanic (up from 2.7 percent in 2013), 1.4 percent are American Indian/Alaskan Native (up from 1.3 percent in 2013); and 1.4 percent are Asian/Pacific Islanders (up from 1.2 percent).

Most respondents to the survey hold higher-level positions in their organizations, with more than one-third (34.4 percent) reporting that their job title was director. Another 20 percent are in administration management, with job titles such as administrator, manager or superintendent. Some 14.7 percent of respondents were in operations and facility management, including operations managers, facility managers, building managers and supervisors. Some 11.1 percent of respondents were in program and activity administration, with job titles such as activity or program director, manager, coordinator, specialist, coach or instructor. Slightly fewer (9.5 percent) were the chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner for their organization. Around 1 percent were in services, including planners, designers, architects and consultants. Finally, 9.3 percent were in "other" job roles not specified in the report. (See Figure 1.)

Respondents with the "director" title were most likely to be working with colleges and universities (41.1 percent of these respondents were directors) and YMCAs (40.3 percent). Respondents in administration management positions were more likely to report in from parks, with 25.6 percent of parks respondents indicating they held administration management positions. Operations and facility managers, as well as program and activity administrators were more likely to report from community centers. Some 21.8 percent of community center respondents were in operations or facility management, and 18.6 percent were in program and activity administration. Those holding the title of chairman, CEO, president, vice president and owner were most likely to be from YMCAs, health clubs and camps. Some 33.1 percent of YMCA respondents, 31 percent of health club respondents and 30.1 percent of camp respondents held this title.

Career Paths

Respondents to our survey are highly educated, compared with the population of the United States. While 31.7 percent of Americans age 25 and older had achieved at least a bachelor's degree as of 2013, 78.8 percent of our survey respondents had done so. They were most likely to have earned a bachelor's degree. Some 41.1 percent of respondents had a bachelor's. Another 34.2 percent said they had earned their master's degree, and 3.5 percent had achieved a doctorate. Of the remaining respondents, 10.8 percent said they had attended some college, 6.5 percent had a two-year degree or associate's degree, and 4 percent had completed a high school diploma.

Respondents from schools and camps were more likely than others to have only a high school diploma, though only a small number of them did. Some 6.9 percent of respondents from these types of facilities had just a high school diploma. Respondents from colleges and from YMCAs were the most likely to report having earned a bachelor's degree, master's degree or Ph.D. Some 96.7 percent of college respondents and 86.1 percent of YMCA respondents had done so. Respondents from camps were the least likely to have earned a four-year degree or more, with 70.3 percent. Higher degrees were most common among college respondents, where 83.2 percent had earned their master's or Ph.D. They were followed by schools, where 56 percent had earned a master's or PhD.

Most respondents have amassed a great deal of experience, both in their current positions and in the industry. Nearly half (47.7 percent) reported that they have been in their current position for at least 10 years. Another quarter (24.2 percent) have between five and nine years under their belts in their current role. (See Figure 2.)

Respondents from camp facilities had the longest average tenure in their current job roles. On average, camp respondents have been in their current jobs for 13.4 years. They were followed by those from colleges and universities, with 12.4 years in their current jobs.

Likewise, respondents have amassed a great deal of industry experience, with more than half (56.3 percent) indicating that they've been working in the recreation sports and fitness industry for at least 20 years. Less than 6 percent have been in the industry for less than five years. (See Figure 3.)

Respondents from parks, schools and colleges have the most years working in the industry. On average, parks respondents have 22.7 years of industry experience, school respondents have 22.5 years of experience, and college respondents have 22.3 years of experience. They were followed by camps respondents, with 21 years of experience. Health club respondents have the least number of years of industry experience, though on average, they have been in the industry for 17.8 years. They were followed by respondents from community centers, with 19.4 years of experience, and YMCA respondents, with 19.9 years.

Survey respondents not only take their formal education seriously, but they also are highly likely to report that they have earned certifications, helping to continue their education and ensure they have access to up-to-date information and knowledge. The most common certification among respondents was CPR/AED/First Aid certification, with 70.5 percent reporting having earned it. It was followed by coaching certification (22.3 percent), aquatic management and pool operations certification (17.9 percent) and teaching certification (17.2 percent). (See Figure 4.)

Respondents from camps were least likely to have earned certifications of any kind, though 89.2 percent of these respondents indicated that they had earned certifications. Respondents from YMCAs were most likely to have earned certifications of any kind, with 96 percent of YMCA respondents indicating they had done so.

Respondents from parks were more likely than others to have earned the Certified Parks and Recreation Professional (CPRP) certification (26.2 percent of parks respondents had done so); playground safety certification (11.9 percent); and pesticide application certification (10.6 percent).

Schools respondents were more likely than others to report that they had earned a teaching certification (58 percent of schools respondents); coaching certification (54.7 percent); or turf/grounds management certification (4.5 percent).

Respondents from health clubs were more likely than others to have earned their CPR/AED/First Aid certification (80.7 percent); personal trainer certification (40.4 percent); childcare or early childhood education certification (7 percent); or athletic trainer certification (7 percent).

YMCA respondents were the most likely to have earned an aquatic management or pool operations certification, or a lifeguard certification. Some 29 percent of YMCA respondents reported having earned each of these certifications.

Finally, camps respondents were more likely than others to report that they had earned a foodservice certification (15.1 percent); climbing certification (10.1 percent); or law enforcement certification (7.9 percent).

Some 23.3 percent of respondents said they plan to earn certification of some kind over the next two years. The most commonly planned certifications include:

  • CPRP certification (7.9 percent of all respondents, 16.2 percent of parks respondents)
  • CPR/AED/First Aid certification (7 percent of all respondents, 8.2 percent of camp respondents)
  • Playground safety certification (3.2 percent of all respondents, 7.1 percent of parks respondents)
  • Aquatic management and pool operations certification (2.6 percent of all respondents, 4.5 percent of community center respondents)
  • Personal training certifications (2.5 percent of all respondents, 12.1 percent of health club respondents)

Money Talks

The Salary Survey Report in 2013 showed a 2.6 percent increase to average salaries for survey respondents, from $65,000 in 2012 to $66.700. This year, we can report a further increase of 1 percent to an average of $67,400, bringing the average salary for our respondents to its highest level since we began conducting the survey in 2008. Since 2008, the average salary for survey respondents has risen by 9.6 percent.

The percentage of respondents reporting that they earn a salary of at least $60,000 increased slightly, from 51.3 percent in 2013 to 51.5 percent in 2014. There was no change from 2013 in the percentage of respondents reporting that they earn at least $100,000. (See Figure 5.)

Not all industry segments reported an increase in salaries from 2013 to 2014. For parks respondents, schools respondents and those from resorts, the average salary fell slightly. The decrease was steepest for resorts respondents, who saw a 7.1 percent drop in their average salary. They were followed by parks, with a 2.6 percent decrease, and schools, with a 2.4 percent decrease.

The greatest increases to average salaries were seen among respondents from military installations. These respondents reported an increase of 8.9 percent from an average of $65,200 in 2013 to $71,000 in 2014. They were followed by YMCA respondents, who reported a 6.9 percent increase, and college respondents, with a 5.5 percent increase. (See Figure 6.)

Regionally, the greatest increases to salaries were seen among respondents from the Northeast. These respondents reported an increase of 7.2 percent from an average of $70,800 in 2013 to an average of $75,900 in 2014. They were followed by those in the West, reporting a 3.1 percent increase. Respondents in the Midwest reported no change to their average salary, and those in the South saw a slight 0.6 percent decrease. (See Figure 7.)

As usual, respondents holding the title of chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner earned the highest average salary. They also reported a steep increase over 2013. These respondents saw an increase of 11.6 percent from an average salary of $87,600 in 2013 to an average of $97,800 in 2014. Program and activity administrators also reported a slight increase, while other job titles saw a decrease in their average salaries. (See Figure 8.)

As usual, higher levels of educational attainment deliver higher salaries. Respondents with a bachelor's degree earned 37.9 percent more, on average, than those with just a high school diploma. That said, respondents with Ph.D.s continued to see their salaries decrease in 2014. After a 6.4 percent drop from 2012 to 2013, these respondents reported a further decrease of 2.3 percent in 2014. At the same time, respondents with a master's degree reported a 0.5 percent increase from 2013 to 2014. (See Figure 9.)

Interestingly, while many survey respondents tend to be more optimistic about the future when it comes to operational budgets, they tend to be more pessimistic when it comes to salary expectations. Consistently, fewer respondents expect to see their salaries increase than actually see such increases. This year, nearly half (47.2 percent) of respondents said their salary had increased from 2012 to 2013. (See Figure 10.) Only 25.6 percent of respondents in 2013 expected an increase in that time frame. Therefore, it is likely that although only 28.3 percent of respondents in 2014 said they expect to see a salary increase from 2013 to 2014, a greater number will actually receive such an increase.

Respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to report that their salaries had increased from 2012 to 2013, but those from health clubs reported the greatest average increase in that time frame. (See Figure 11.) More than half (56 percent) of YMCA respondents said their salaries had increased in that time period, and they reported an average increase of 3.3 percent. Some 44.8 percent of health club respondents said their salaries had risen from 2012 to 2013, and they reported an average increase of 6 percent. Looking ahead, respondents from health clubs are the most likely to believe their salaries will increase in 2014. Some 43.8 percent of health club respondents expect an increase in that time frame. They were followed by YMCA respondents, 34.5 percent of whom expect an increase in 2014.

Our annual salary survey report revealed a slight increase to average salaries for professionals in the field of recreation, sports and fitness, with salaries rising 1 percent from the average reported in 2013.

On The Job

On average, respondents report that they work 47.7 hours per week, representing virtually no change from 2013, when respondents worked an average 48 hours weekly. There was a negligible increase this year in the percentage of respondents who work at least 45 hours per week. While 60.8 percent in 2013 indicated they worked at least 45 hours per week, that number rose slightly to 61 percent in 2014. The number reporting they worked 60 hours or more fell from 9.2 percent in 2013 to 8.5 percent in 2014. (See Figure 12.)

Once again, respondents from schools reported working the most hours, on average, weekly. Schools respondents in 2014 worked an average of 52 hours weekly. They were followed by camps respondents (49.7 hours), YMCAs (49.2 hours), health clubs (49 hours) and colleges (48 hours). Parks respondents had the shortest average work week, at 45.8 hours. They were followed by community center respondents (46.3 hours).

Slightly fewer respondents in 2014 feel their salary is inappropriate, given their current level of responsibility. While 53.2 percent in 2013 felt their salary was inappropriate, in 2014, that number fell to 51.3 percent. Some 51 percent feel their salary is too low, and 0.3 percent of respondents feel their salary is too high.

Respondents from camps were the most likely to feel their salary is appropriate. Some 57.7 percent of camp respondents in 2014 feel their salaries are appropriate, up from 55.5 percent in 2013. They were followed by schools respondents, 53.2 percent of whom feel their salary is appropriate. Respondents from parks and from colleges were the least likely to feel that their salaries are appropriate. Some 43.8 percent of college respondents and 43.9 percent of parks respondents said they feel their salary is appropriate. (See Figure 13.)

The percentage of respondents who report a greater level of responsibility has steadily fallen since 2011. In 2012, 68.7 percent of respondents said their level of responsibility had increased in 2011. In 2013, 65 percent reported that their responsibilities had increased in 2012. In 2014, 63.5 percent of respondents reported that their level of responsibility had increased in 2013. Looking ahead, 62.8 percent of respondents believe their level of responsibility will increase in 2014. (See Figure 14.)

Professionals in the recreation, sports and fitness industry who respond to our surveys tend to be happy with their current work. The vast majority—90.8 percent—of respondents in 2014 report that they are satisfied with their current jobs. The number who feel very satisfied increased from 35.5 percent in 2013 to 37.2 percent in 2014. (See Figure 15.)



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