Hold Steady

Our Eighth Annual Salary Survey

By Emily Tipping

The Great Recession continues to fade, with unemployment continuing to fall over the past six months to its lowest levels in seven years, reaching as low as 5.4 percent in April 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is down from 6.3 percent in May 2014, and a high after the economic downturn of 10 percent in October 2009.

The latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show no statistical change in median household income from 2012 to 2013—the latest years for which data are available. However, though it has yet to match its peak of 2007, median household income has increased 2.8 percent since its low in 2011 of $50,502 to $50,939 in 2013.

This year's Industry Report survey revealed a slight decrease of 2.7 percent to the average salary reported by respondents. However, overall job satisfaction continues to be high, and some industry segments have reported growth to salaries.

Keep reading to discover how more than 2,300 respondents to our annual survey answered questions regarding not only their salaries, but also their education, career paths and more.

Who Are You?

Just as the wide variety of job roles and organizations covered by Recreation Management cannot be pigeonholed into a single overarching image, there is no "typical" respondent to our survey. That said, the average respondent is a 49.7-year-old white male working as a director of a parks and recreation organization in a suburban community in the Midwest and earning $65,600.

Some 30.7 percent of respondents were from the Midwest, the largest group represented in the survey. They were followed by the West (20.4 percent), South Atlantic (18.7 percent), Northeast (17.4 percent) and South Central region (12.4 percent). Just 0.4 percent of respondents were from outside the United States.

More than four in 10 (42.3 percent) of respondents said they worked in suburban communities. They were followed by those in rural communities (33.8 percent). Less than a quarter (23.9 percent) said they were located in urban areas.

Nearly two-thirds (65.1 percent) of respondents work for public organizations. Another 21.8 percent are with private nonprofits, and 12.2 percent work for private for-profit facilities.

When it comes to the segment of the industry they are working for, the largest number of respondents—38.7 percent—work for parks and recreation organizations. Other more common industry segments represented include colleges and universities (13.8 percent), schools and school districts (9.3 percent), campgrounds, RV parks, and private and youth camps (7.5 percent), community or private recreation or sports centers (7.3 percent), YMCAs, YWCAs, JCCs and Boys & Girls Clubs (5.8 percent), golf and country clubs (3.3 percent), and sports, health and fitness clubs (3.2 percent). Less commonly represented types of facilities include: resorts and resort hotels (2 percent), waterparks, theme parks and amusement parks (1.3 percent), medical fitness and wellness facilities (0.9 percent), military installations (0.8 percent), ice rinks (0.6 percent), racquet and tennis clubs (0.5 percent), stadiums, arenas and tracks (0.4 percent), and corporate recreation and sports centers (0.3 percent). Some 4.2 percent of respondents work for other types of facilities, such as homeowners associations, churches and more.

Nearly four in 10 respondents (37.1 percent) are between 50 and 59 years old, the largest group. They were followed by respondents who are between 40 and 49 years old (23.7 percent). Less than one-fifth of respondents are younger than 40 (19.8 percent), or 60 or older (19.5 percent).

This year's survey population was more diverse in terms of gender than former years. Some 36.5 percent of respondents were women, up from 29.7 percent in 2014. At the same time, the survey audience continues to be primarily white, with 90.3 percent of respondents identifying as such. Another 4.1 percent are black/non-Hispanic; 3.2 percent are Hispanic; 1.7 percent are Asian/Pacific Islanders; 1.4 percent are Native Americans or Alaskan Native; and 1.4 percent are of "other" or "unknown" ethnicities.

When it comes to job titles represented by the survey, a majority of respondents are in leadership positions. Some 32.2 percent said they hold the title of "director." Some 20.8 percent are in administration management, which includes job titles such as administrator, manager or superintendent. Some 16.4 percent of respondents were in operations and facility management, including operations managers, facility managers, building managers and supervisors. Some 12.3 percent of respondents were in program and activity administration, which includes such job titles as activity or program director, manager, coordinator, specialist, coach or instructor. Some 8.6 percent of respondents were chairman, CEO, vice president or owner of their organization. Around 1 percent were in services, which includes planners, designers, architects and consultants. Finally, 8.7 percent were in "other," unspecified job roles. (See Figure 1.)

Respondents who hold the title of director were most likely to be from colleges and universities, where 41.8 percent of respondents had this title. They were followed by parks, where 36 percent of respondents were directors. Those who were in administration management were most likely to be from golf facilities (28.9 percent) and parks (27.9 percent). Respondents in operations and facility management were most common among community recreation centers (27.2 percent) and health clubs (21.6 percent). Those who were program and activity administrators were more commonly found among colleges and universities (17.9 percent) and schools and school districts (17.5 percent). Finally, CEOs, presidents, etc., were most commonly found among health clubs, where 35.1 percent of respondents held this type of title, followed by YMCAs (23.7 percent).

Career Paths

Respondents to the survey, as a whole, are better educated than the population of the United States. While nearly 49 percent of Americans 25 or older had earned a bachelor's degree, master's degree, doctorate or other professional degree as of 2014, some 78.6 percent of Industry Report survey respondents had achieved this level of education. The largest number (44.5 percent) reported that they had a bachelor's degree. Another 31.3 percent have earned their master's degree, and 2.8 percent have earned a Ph.D. or other advanced degree. Smaller numbers of respondents said they had attended some college without earning a degree (12.1 percent), had a two-year, associate's degree (6.9 percent), or had a high school diploma (2.5 percent).

Respondents from YMCAs were the most likely to report that they had earned a bachelor's degree. Some 66.4 percent of YMCA respondents had done so. They were followed by parks respondents, where 54.9 percent had earned a bachelor's degree. Master's degrees and Ph.D.s were most common among respondents from colleges and universities, and schools and school districts. Some 66.7 percent of college respondents and 48.8 percent of schools respondents said they had earned a master's degree; while 13.8 percent of college respondents and 4.7 percent of schools respondents had earned a Ph.D. Interestingly, more schools respondents reported having only earned a high school diploma than a Ph.D. Some 5.1 percent of school respondents had their high school diploma. They were followed by health clubs, where 4.1 percent reported having earned a high school diploma.

On average, respondents have been working in their current position for 11.3 years. Some 42.7 percent of respondents have been in their current position for at least 10 years, with 16.4 percent of respondents indicating they've been in their current jobs for 20 years or more. More than one-quarter (25.6 percent) of respondents have been in their current jobs for between five and nine years. (See Figure 2.)

Respondents from schools and school districts have been in their current positions for the longest period of time, with an average of 12.7 years. They were followed by those from health clubs (12.3 years), camp facilities (11.9 years), colleges and universities (11.6 years), parks (11.2 years), community and private recreation and sports centers (10.4 years), golf facilities (10.1 years) and YMCAs (9.6 years).

On average, respondents have been working in the recreation, sports and fitness industry for 21.3 years. More than half (52.4 percent) said they have been in the industry for at least 20 years, and 24.4 percent have been in the industry for 30 years or more. Those with less than 10 years of industry experience make up 19.2 percent of the survey population. (See Figure 3.)

Respondents from golf facilities have the longest industry tenure, with an average of 24 years of experience in the recreation, sports and fitness industry. They were followed by colleges (22.1 years), parks (21.8 years), schools (21.5 years), community rec centers (20.2 years), YMCAs (19.7 years), camps (19.3 years) and health clubs (19 years).

Continuing education is important in most careers, and this industry is no exception. For many within the industry, earning certifications is a way of demonstrating their industry-specific knowledge and skill. For that reason, we asked respondents which certifications they had earned. By far, the most common was certification in CPR/AED/First Aid, which 73.6 percent of respondents said they had. Other common certifications include aquatic management and pool operations (19.9 percent), coaching (19.2 percent), lifeguard (16.6 percent) and teaching (15 percent). (See Figure 4.)


Respondents from schools were the most likely to report that they had earned certifications of any kind. Some 94 percent of schools respondents had earned certification. They were followed by YMCAs (91.2 percent) and health clubs (90.5 percent).

Respondents from schools were more likely than other respondents to have earned coaching and teaching certifications. Those from YMCAs were more likely than others to have earned aquatic management and pool operations certification, lifeguard certification, or childcare and early childhood education certification. Health club respondents were more likely than others to report that they had earned CPR/AED/First Aid or personal training certifications. Parks respondents were most likely to have earned their Certified Parks and Recreation Professional (CPRP) certification. Some 24.9 percent of parks respondents had done so, compared with just 12.4 percent of all respondents. Park respondents were also more likely than others to have earned their playground safety certification.

Golf facility respondents were more likely than others to report that they had earned their food service, pesticide application and turf/grounds management certification.

Camp respondents were more likely than others to have security/law enforcement or climbing certifications.

Finally, community center respondents were more likely than others to have earned athletic trainer certifications.

Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of respondents said they planned to earn certifications within the next two years. The most commonly planned certifications include:

  1. CPRP (8.9 percent of all respondents have plans to earn this credential, and 17.3 percent of parks respondents will do so)
  2. CPR/AED/First Aid certification (7.3 percent)
  3. Playground safety certification (3.6 percent)
  4. Aquatic management/pool operations (2.8 percent)
  5. Personal training (2.2 percent)

Down to Business

After reporting increases to average salaries for the past few years, this year saw a decrease of 2.7 percent, nearly reversing the increases of the past two years. The average salary for respondents increased by 1 percent from 2013 to 2014, and by 2.6 percent from 2012 to 2014. That said, from 2008 to 2015, the average salary has risen by 6.7 percent.


There was an increase in the percentage of respondents who reported that they earned anywhere from $49,999 and down in 2015. At the same time, there was a decrease in those reporting they earned almost every salary range above $50,000. The exceptions are for those earning $90,000 to $149,000, categories which saw slight increases in 2015. (See Figure 5.)

While there was a 2.7 percent decrease in the average salary for all respondents, some industry segments reported increases. The biggest increase was seen among respondents from military installations, with an increase of 10.8 percent. They were followed by golf facilities, who reported an increase of 2.5 percent, and parks respondents, with an increase of 0.8 percent. (See Figure 6.)


The biggest decreases were found among YMCA respondents, who reported a drop of 12 percent to their average salary in 2015. Other groups of respondents who saw a larger drop than the across-the-board average of 2.7 percent include resorts and resort hotels (decrease of 8.4 percent); community recreation and sports centers (8.2 percent); schools and school districts (5.2 percent); camps (4.7 percent); and health clubs (3 percent).

When salaries are considered by region, the highest earners continue to be found in the Northeast, while the lowest earnings are found in the Midwest. There was no region that beat the odds to report an increase to average salaries from 2014 to 2015. Just as the highest salaries are found in the Northeast, the largest decrease was found among Northeastern respondents, who reported a 5.8 percent drop in their average salary. They were followed by the Midwest, with a drop of 3.4 percent. Slightly more modest decreases were found among respondents in the West (with a 1.6 percent decrease) and South (0.9 percent). (See Figure 7.)

While respondents who are chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner of their organizations earned the highest salary in 2015, they also reported the greatest decrease to average salary from 2014 to 2015, with a drop of 15.7 percent. Program and activity administrators reported the second biggest decrease, of 5 percent. Those in operations and facility management reported a 1.2 percent decrease to average salary. Increases were seen among those in administration management (an increase of 5.3 percent), as well as those who hold the title of director (3 percent increase). (See Figure 8.)


Generally speaking, the better educated you are, the better your earnings, and this industry is no exception. Those with advanced degrees or Ph.D.s reported the highest average salary, of $82,500, which represents an increase for these earners of 2.1 percent from 2014. Those with master's degrees earned an average of $76,800 in 2015, a decrease of 3.2 percent. Respondents with a bachelor's degree earned an average of $68,400 in 2015, a decrease of 1 percent. (See Figure 9.)


Despite the fact that average salaries fell in 2015, more than half of this year's respondents reported that their salaries had increased from 2013 to 2014. Some 54.3 percent reported an increase in that time frame, up from 47.2 percent who saw an increase in 2013. Looking ahead, more than one-third (33.5 percent) of respondents expect to see their salaries increase in 2015. (See Figure 10.) That said, this projected number is generally pessimistic in our surveys, and more respondents end up reporting a decrease than expected it. For example, in our 2014 survey, only 28.3 percent of respondents said they were expecting a salary increase from 2013 to 2014. This year, 54.3 percent actually reported such an increase.


Respondents from parks and colleges were the most likely to report that their salaries had risen from 2013 to 2014. Some 61.3 percent of parks respondents and 60.9 percent of college respondents saw an increase in that time period. Those from health clubs were the least likely to report an increase from 2013 to 2014. Looking forward, respondents from YMCAs are the most optimistic about 2015, with 44.8 percent expecting to see a salary increase this year. The biggest increases are expected among health club respondents, 32.6 percent of whom expect their salaries to rise by an average of 9.5 percent. (See Figure 11.)


Working World

When it comes to their working lives, nearly a third (32.4 percent) of respondents said they are working between 40 and 44 hours a week. Another 28.2 percent are working 45 to 49 hours per week. Nearly three in 10 (29.9 percent) said they work at least 50 hours a week. (See Figure 12.)

More than half of all respondents (52.8) said they feel that their salary is too low, given their current responsibilities, up slightly from 2014, when 51 percent felt this way. Respondents from camps are the most likely to feel that their salary is appropriate, given their current responsibilities. Some 50.9 percent of camp respondent think their salary is appropriate. They were followed by those from parks, YMCAs and community centers. In all of these cohorts, 47 percent of respondents feel their salary is appropriate. Respondents from health clubs are the least likely to report that they think their salary is appropriate, with just 31.5 percent of this cohort reporting they feel this way. (See Figure 13.)


Nearly two-thirds (66.1 percent) of respondents said they had a greater level of responsibility in 2014 than in 2013. Another 31.9 percent said there was no change to their level of responsibility in this time period. (See Figure 14.) Looking ahead, 63 percent expect to see a greater level of responsibility in 2015 than in 2014.

As in past years, the vast majority of survey respondents report that they are either satisfied or very satisfied in their current jobs. Some 37 percent of 2015 respondents are very satisfied, and 54.5 percent are satisfied. Few respondents report being unsatisfied (7.2 percent) or very unsatisfied (1.3 percent), numbers that have seen little change over the past several years. (See Figure 15.)

Respondents from community recreation centers, YMCAs and colleges were the most likely to report that they were not satisfied with their current jobs, though even in these industry segments, dissatisfaction was uncommon. Some 11.7 percent of rec center respondents, 10.3 percent of YMCA respondents and 10.2 percent of college respondents said they were either unsatisfied or very unsatisfied.


On the flip side, the highest levels of job satisfaction were found among respondents from golf facilities, parks and schools. Some 96.1 percent of golf respondents, 91.5 percent of park respondents and 90.7 percent of school respondents said they were either satisfied or very satisfied in their current jobs.



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