When AB launched a college recreation survey in early 2020, we couldn’t possibly have foreseen the volatility the next two years would bring to this industry — and just about everything else.
Our baseline data was gathered mere weeks before COVID-19 shut the country down, and the 2021 results landed on roughly the one-year anniversary of said shutdown. This year, we offer our third annual look at college recreation trends and again find the numbers predictably unpredictable during this period of national recovery.
Perhaps a first sign that things are improving is the fact that nearly twice as many college rec professionals participated in the current survey as did last year.
Are their constituents showing up in greater numbers, too? Fifty-seven percent of 2022 survey respondents said student engagement in their recreation facilities is up from the previous year — not a surprise, given that a full 80 percent of 2021’s sample reported an engagement decrease during the pandemic’s darkest days. Consequently, student engagement is not the focus it was a year ago. In 2021, 51 percent reported that increasing student engagement was their number-one priority moving forward, while only 35 percent did this year. Budgets appear to be rebounding, as well. Nearly as big of year-over-year change came in the category of new equipment purchases — now the top priority of 21 percent of survey respondents, up from just 6 percent last year. Meanwhile, facility renovation is tops for 31 percent of 2022 respondents, consistent with last year’s 30 percent.
Cardio equipment preferences appear consistent year over year, with treadmills, elliptical trainers and upright stationary bikes, in that order, again leading the way in terms of average units per facility. This year’s results also indicate stronger showings for recumbent stationary bikes, step machines and rowers.
We again offered more than a dozen traditional pieces of weight-training equipment on a checklist, and at least 95 percent of this year’s respondents reported offering each type, similar to last year but up substantially from 2020’s 86 percent. In addition, at least 96 percent of 2022 respondents say they offer each of nine types of functional strength equipment listed, up from last year’s 93 percent, and led this go-round by battle ropes at 100 percent adoption.
Climbing walls have never been more common in our survey, with 69 percent reporting their rec center has one. That’s up from 54 percent last year and 55 percent in 2020.
Respondents who take advantage of programming offered by their equipment providers is back up to 58 percent, where it was in 2020 before dipping to 36 percent last year.
Yoga remains the most widely offered group fitness programming, with 71 percent of this year’s respondents offering it, but that’s not nearly the reach it enjoyed last year at 96 percent. Group cycling is again second on the list, but down 12 points to 66 percent. Functional fitness (HIIT), which tied cycling last year in second place at 78 percent, is offered by 59 percent of this year’s sample. In fact, only two group fitness modalities of the 10 specified in our survey are trending upward: hot yoga (at 24 percent, from 5 percent) and martial arts (24, 16). The percentage of rec departments that open group fitness to non-students (faculty, staff or community members) is up to 81 percent from 73 percent and 79 percent in 2021 and 2020, respectively. Doing so generates revenue for 72 percent of this year’s sample, up from 53 percent and 55 percent.
For the first time, we asked whether survey participants saw more consistent attendance in small-group training classes (fewer than 12 clients) or larger ones, and a full two-thirds reported their members prefer small groups with more trainer-to-client instruction.
The percentage of respondents reporting that their facilities are equipped with automated external defibrillators has declined each year of our survey, from 100 percent in 2020 to 99 percent in 2021 to 92 percent in 2022. Yet, emergency action plans are in place for between 96 and 97 percent of reporting rec departments for a third straight year.
Last year, a mentally challenging one by all accounts, saw 23 percent of reporting rec departments say they don’t offer student health and wellness services. Encouragingly, that number is down to just 16 percent in our latest survey.
Finally, we again asked respondents to assess their feelings about the health and fitness market. Sixty-four percent of 2022 participants say they are optimistic. That’s up from 55 percent a year ago, but still shy of the 76 percent benchmark established in our inaugural, pre-pandemic survey. Far be it from us to predict what the next year will bring for college recreation (and society at large). Instead, we’ll let a new set of numbers tell the story.