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The purpose of this study was to examine first-year student perceptions related to Campus Recreation (CR) participation and develop linkages between access, satisfaction and academic persistence. This chapter reviews the literature regarding collegiate student persistence and recreation. The topics include campus recreation access, achieving student satisfaction and retention.
Student Access to Campus Recreation Facilities & Programming
It is no secret that active involvement in sports and fitness is of vital importance to anyone seeking long lasting health and longevity. Prevalence of obesity in the United States during 2007-2008 was 32% among adult men and 36% among adult women (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden, & Curtin, 2010). Therefore it is imperative that American university students have access to healthy lifestyle opportunities while attending college. Reed (2007); Hickerson and Beggs (2007) argue that college students are at risk for a variety of negative health behaviors and are in a position to begin to learn how to control their lifestyle, but unfortunately most are inactive and have not learned to develop healthy behaviors.
Researchers agree that approximately half of all university students demonstrate inadequate physical activity levels (Sabourin and Irwin, 2008). Sabourin and Irwin (2008); Andrijasevi, Pausi, Bavcevi, Ciliga, and Pausi (2005) agree with this researcher that physical activity has a positive effect on one's well-being. Nguyen-Michel, Unger, Hamilton, and Spruijt-Metz (2005) attest that physical activity helps protect mental health by reducing stress levels. The authors point to a dramatic increase in both anxiety and depression amongst college students during the past few decades. At the same time research indicates that that colleges and universities are experiencing decreased enrollments in basic physical activity instructional programs (Crawford, Greenwell, and Andrew, 2007).
This phenomenon is likely due to the fact that physical education is no longer required at many universities throughout America (Crawford, et al., 2007). Less demand for physical education coursework eventually leads to reduced infrastructure investment and facility access for students seeking physical activity (Gibson, 2004). Failure to provide modern, accessible facilities to promote physical activity can negatively affect a university's ability to attract prospective students and retain them (Reisburg, 2001). As a result, this researcher holds the belief that universities must increase accessibility for students seeking opportunities to engage in activities which promote healthy lifestyles and physical activity. At many universities CR is compelled to fill the accessibility void created by the reduced physical education instruction (Gibson, 2004). Kennedy (2007) notes changing student expectations and competition from other educational institutions additionally force universities to construct new accessible recreation centers. Surveys of student populations at major universities throughout the United States show campuses which lack modern, accessible recreation amenities have a much more difficult time both recruiting and retaining students (Kennedy, 2007). As a result colleges and universities in the United States have spent a total of $7.12 billion for new construction and renovation of recreational facilities since the year 2000 (NIRSA, 2004).
It is the opinion of this researcher that universities which seek to bolster student recruitment, satisfaction and academic persistence must take accessibility into consideration when erecting a recreation center. Tinto (2000); Bonfiglio (2004) argue that campus structure and design symbolize values of the institution. Bonfiglio (2004) contends that institutions without modern, accessible recreation and fitness facilities are much more likely to have an unhealthy, less physically active student population. Additionally, recreation facilities must be centrally accessible located to promote utilization (NIRSA, 2004). Facilities built on campus peripheries or those constructed at substantial distance from residence halls and other communal areas fail to promote accessibility (Tinto, 2000). Institutions which fail to provide adequate, accessible facilities which support healthy lifestyle choices run a risk of developing unhealthy and unsatisfied student populations which fail to persist (Bonfiglio, 2004; NIRSA, 2004; Tinto, 2000).
Researchers agree that CR Administrators must also increase student access to facilities by providing diverse facility design aspects and program offerings in order to meet distinct student needs and interests. Proper identification and design of facilities and programming is essential to maximize participation amongst all student groups on campus. Li, Absher, Graefe, and Hsu (2008) contend that cultural and national subgroups should be recognized when attempting to reach customers within recreation. Cohen, Sehgal, Williamson, Marsh, Golinelli and McKenzie (2009) conducted a study on recreational facility expansion and renovation. They examined policy and programming implications associated with the improvements. The authors concluded that improving recreational facilities can positively improve patron usage rates, but attest that improvements do not always increase utilization. Factors unassociated with physical improvements such as programming, staffing, fees, hours, marketing, outreach, and other human factors have a dramatic effect on customer utilization (Cohen, et al, 2009).
In order to understand student needs this researcher holds the belief that CR staff and administrators must represent the diversity of the university. Hale and Betances (2004) contend that the growth rate of students of color is the primary reason why racial diversity must be effectively implemented in higher education. Roberts, Outley, and Estes (2002) argue that there is a lack of diversity present in most recreation departments throughout the country. Roberts, et al., (2002) contend that failure to recruit diverse staff eventually strips organizational innovation, competitive advantage and the ability to satisfy customer needs. Enhanced recruitment, retention and accountability standards must be implemented within the recreation field to create staff more representative ethnically and culturally diverse student populations (Roberts, et al., 2002).
Studies of organizational diversity have demonstrated that exposure to diverse colleagues helps managers make better decisions and cultivate fresh ideas by drawing upon larger pools of information (Allen & Montgomery, 2001). Li, et al., (2008); Roberts, et al. (2002) contend that major organizational changes must take place in order to maximize recreation programming access. Allen and Montgomery (2001) explain that organizational diversity development cannot originate without "unfreezing" within the organization. Unfreezing is deemed to begin once managerial commitment, allotment of adequate resources, and or a major occurrence necessitating change occurs.
The second stage which Allen and Montgomery (2001) prescribe is "moving". Moving is accomplished by implementation of practices such as recruiting, outreach programs, co-op and internships, mentoring, career development initiatives, training and educational programs. Refreezing is the final process which begins by reviewing existing policies and procedures to ensure they support rather than conflict with the new culture of diversity (Allen & Montgomery, 2001). This researcher trusts that once organizational and staff diversity exists, rich discussion and implementation of broad program offerings can be delivered to maximize student access and participation. Lastly, CR administrators must reach out to attract diverse student groups to promote access and awareness about CR program offerings.
Li, et al., (2008) assert that diverse values determine social behavior, and that cultural values play a major role in recognizing alternative views of service quality within social groups. Hale and Kivel (2004) argue that higher education administrators need to fight for equal opportunity, full access, and inclusion for all student groups. They contend that responsibility requires listening to student groups on the margins, while acknowledging majority privilege, resources, and access. Only then can administrators make vital changes which promote access to at risk student groups on the periphery (Hale and Kivel, 2004).
Modern student populations want access to diverse recreational programming opportunities outside the traditional arena of competitive sports such as intramural flag football, basketball and softball (Tsai, 2005). Walker, Jackson, and Deng (2008) confirm that recreation and leisure constraints vary dramatically between diverse ethnic and cultural groups. To effectively attract and motivate the entire university population to participate, CR must understand the ethnic and cultural constraints which prevent dissimilar populations from program participation. Walker, et al., (2008) argue that ethnic and cultural leisure constraints can be overcome if administrators make student participation a priority by offering diverse programming options.
Researchers agree that CR marketing is another valuable tool to help facilitate diverse student group participation (Crompton, 2008; Reed, 2007; Robinson & Gladden, 2003). Robinson and Gladden (2003) contend that CR brand equity must be developed to maximize student participation. CR departments which have built successful brand equity have students which are aware of all program offerings and participate with greater frequency (Robinson & Gladden, 2003). The authors conclude that brand equity ensures maximum both program utilization and revenues if fees are charged.
Establishing CR brand equity has a particularly positive effect on participation amongst first-year student populations (NIRSA, 2004). Students which are new to college or those yet to establish peer-to-peer social support networks can be influenced to participate in CR programming if the department utilizes effective marketing and has establish brand equity (Robinson & Gladden, 2003). Reed (2007) asserts that CR marketing is a fundamentally important to ensure first-year student participation. First-year students are less aware of recreational programming and facilities available on campus than upperclassmen (Reed, 2007).
Researchers agree that most recreational agencies demonstrate inadequate and unsuccessful marketing tactics. Crompton (2008) established a Benefits Evolution Pyramid which traces the evolution of recreation and leisure services marketing in the United States. According to Crompton (2008), most recreation agencies and professionals are operating at the two lowest levels of the pyramid which include the base or Activity / Custodial Focus and the second stage of Promotion / Selling Focus. He maintains that a limited number of agencies have evolved to embrace User and Community Benefits Focus and very few have adopted the final stage of Repositioning Focus. Crompton (2008) defines Repositioning as a process of identifying paramount community concerns and responding with implementation of recreation services which address the issues. He contends that positive stakeholder perception changes typically only occur in the highest two tiers of the Benefits Evolution Pyramid. Once recreational services are perceived to hold societal merit, community awareness takes place and additional funding leads to satisfied community members and programming longevity (Robinson & Gladden, 2003).
Student Satisfaction and Campus Recreation Participation
Linking first-year student satisfaction with Campus Recreation participation is fundamental for continued departmental funding. Schuh and Upcraft (2001) point to the need for assessment within campus recreational programs due to high levels of scrutiny directed toward their broad programs, large budgets, and investment costs. Hall (2005) contends that campus recreation programs are likely to be one of the most expensive student support programs. Unfortunately there has been a lack of commitment from CRA to investigate student perceptions and build key linkages between participation and satisfaction (Wever, 2003). CRA failure to perform this vital research may result in diminished departmental resources, reduced program offerings, less infrastructure investment, and eventually unsatisfied students at risk of departure from the university.
The National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) study on the impact of student involvement in CR programs and discovered key relationships between participation and academic and personal success factors (NIRSA, 2004). The study demonstrated that active student participation in CR activities correlated with higher overall college satisfaction and success. Among all students surveyed, CR programs and activities ranked higher than internships, cultural activities, part-time or full-time work, student clubs and organizations, shopping, entertainment, restaurant options in the community, chance to study abroad, community service opportunities, watching varsity sports, participating in varsity sports, and sororities/fraternities as determinants of college satisfaction and success (NIRSA, 2004). Additionally, NIRSA (2004) determined that research results did not vary amongst undergraduate versus graduate students or private versus public institutions.
Becker, Cooper, Atkins, & Martin (2009); Hall (2005) agree with this researcher that students who actively participate in CR are more active on campus, in better mental and physical health, and satisfied with their collegiate experience. Since researchers conclude that student satisfaction can be directly linked to CR participation, this researcher feels it is imperative that CR Administrators assess first-year student perceptions of CR participation. Rhodes and Nevill (2004) contend that on-campus student experiences which are either deeply satisfying or dissatisfying have the potential to impact morale, motivation, and persistence. As a result, CR Administrators need to determine whether students are experiencing deep satisfaction or dissatisfaction while participating in CR programming. The study of this information can lead to identification of valuable reasoning behind student decisions to persist or exit the university (Rhodes & Nevill, 2004).
Hickerson and Beggs (2007) examined the impact of boredom on leisure of college students in relation to gender, level of education, and activity choice. Their research found that students with developed leisure skills are satisfied and active in their leisure choice and activity. Students with undeveloped leisure skills chose passive activities which lack positive mental stimulation and psychological reward. The authors assert that the college years are an important leisure development period where lifetime leisure pursuits are built. Hickerson and Beggs (2007) conclude that CR programs play a critical role in student leisure skill development when they offer a wide range of quality leisure opportunities.
Student demand for modern recreational facilities has grown considerably, with sixty nine percent of high school seniors indicating that they plan to use the universities recreation or intramural program upon arrival at the school (Intercollegiate Athletes, 2000). Gose (2006) maintains that CR demand at many universities cannot be met by the institution since funds cannot be used for nonacademic buildings. In most cases, students must directly foot the bill for recreational facility renovation and expansion (Gose, 2006). Therefore, in order for CRA to satisfy incoming student demands and help bolster campus recruitment efforts they must remain focused on satisfaction levels amongst the existing university student population. If current students are unsatisfied with present CR programming and/or costs associated with facility expansion referenda a pledge of student support is unlikely to occur (Gose, 2006).
This researcher believes universities which fail to provide students with access to modern, diverse recreational facilities run the risk of developing unhealthy, at risk campus populations. Crumbing, overused recreation facilities with outdated fitness equipment typically fail to motivate students to engage in physical activity (Gibson, 2004). Additionally, light and nonusers of CR facilities are less satisfied with college life
than heavy users (NIRSA, 2004). As a result, it's imperative that CRAs constantly analyze and seek to improve student satisfaction levels. Constant evaluation may help ensure future student access to CR facilities and maximize participation.
Wever (2003) contends that the politics of higher education require CRA to constantly prove departmental worth or face budget reductions. Therefore, failure to perform adequate first-year student perception research related to Campus Recreation will eventually lead to obstruction student satisfaction rates. Unsatisfied, culturally diverse, first-year students are the student group most at risk of drop out.
Li, et al (2008) study cultural values within diverse groups in order to identify opinions of service quality related to recreation. They contend that ethnic groups should not be assumed to be homogeneous in service quality perception. Li, et al (2008) recommend research of multiple populations and backgrounds in addition to cross-sectional surveys and venues in order to adequately recognize potential users of parks and recreation services. They argue that this research will result in a diverse, satisfied customer base who will return to use services rendered.
Campus Recreation Participation and the Effects on Academic Persistence
Since student persistence has become an increasingly serious problem for American universities, the institutions have adopted a range of response strategies. Barefoot (2004) contends that the most common initial response is for universities to assign student services professionals the responsibility of out-of-class retention program development. Literally, thousands of retention programs designed especially for first-year students have emerged in recent years which include various clubs and organizations, residential programs, expanded campus orientations, convocations, community service and events that build school spirit (Barefoot, 2004). Astin (1999) adds that retention programs tend to be grounded in historic campus traditions, but are also enlightened by modern research related to correlation between student persistence and involvement, formation of peer relationships and group affiliation.
According to Hall (2005), students who participate in CR are socially integrated and deeply connected to other student participants, faculty, and staff. Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) suggested that out-of-class interaction between students and faculty members appears to consistently promote student persistence, educational aspirations, and degree completion, even when other factors are taken into account. They also suggested that student perception of faculty member availability and interest may be enough to promote academic persistence (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). CR opportunities and involvement appear to assist in developing a positive self-concept and thus promote the integration process (Windschitl, 2008).
Wang & Shiveley (2009) agree that universities need to invest more resources in attracting and recruiting students to participate in extracurricular activities in order to enhance their on campus engagement. They assert that students heavily engaged in on campus extracurricular activities have better academic performance than those who are not actively engaged. Astin's (1999) theory of student involvement provides a solid theoretical foundation to explain the reasons for this phenomenon. According to this theory, learning outcomes require investment of both physical and psychological energy. The more engaged a student is with extracurricular activities such as Campus Recreation, the more opportunities there are for learning to occur.
Haines & Fortman (2008) conducted a study to measure Campus Recreation out-of-classroom learning in an effort to measure the impact of Campus Recreation on student learning. They found that participants demonstrated tremendous amounts of learning across a broad range of areas including but not limited to time management, leadership, critical thinking, appreciation of diversity, and social integration. This study can be used to help justify the need for additional investment in Campus Recreation programs, facilities, and services, in addition to meeting the growing needs of accreditation (Haines & Fortman, 2008).
Belch, Gebel and Maas (2001) examined the relationship of participation at the University Recreation Center (URC) on freshman persistence rates at a large public university in the southwest. The results revealed that freshmen who used the URC persisted at a higher rate after one semester and after a full year than their peers who did not use the URC. Persistence rates for URC users for one semester (92%) and one year (71%) clearly outpaced that of their nonuser counterparts (86% and 64% respectively). Additionally, URC users earned slightly higher GPAs and also earned more credit hours at the end of the first year (Belch et al., 2001).
Campus Recreation programs, particularly intramural sports, provide a powerful channel for student interaction (NIRSA, 2004). This interaction may provide freshmen with the opportunity to informally develop support groups, find study partners, and seek advice from other students regarding the best classes or faculty (Windschitl, 2008). Faculty and staff are also a highly visible component of the membership of CR facilities, which may provide ample opportunity for informal interaction with students. A recreational facility with diverse programmatic offerings based on student, faculty, and staff needs can serve as a dynamic community, and in so doing, establishes an expectation of engagement and belonging by students. This activity is symbolic of the individual student's ability to connect to others in the environment and to the university community itself (Belch et al., 2001).
Hausmann, Ye, Schfield & Woods (2009) argue that students who become integrated into the social and academic systems of the university, they develop a psychological sense of belonging to the university community, which is an important precursor to desirable outcomes such as increased commitment and persistence. They conducted a study to measure student perceptions related to campus assimilation and determine if students sense of belonging affected academic persistence. Results demonstrated that students who felt integrated also felt institutional commitment and desire to persist.
It is the researcher's belief that CR plays a key role in building institutional commitment and a desire to persist. Elkins, Braxton, & James (2000) took this concept a step further and examined persistence rates amongst full-time, four-year university students between their first and second semesters. They attempted to identify how core factors which effect student drop out decisions. In particular, the authors focus on the primary stage of a student's college transition which is labeled Separation. A sample of 411 students was studied to determine the effects of outside support and student rejection of past attitudes and values on their decision to stay in school. Elkins, et al (2000) contend that support from family and friends is critical to buttress student persistence. They also concluded that a student's level of institutional commitment plays a major role in determining a need to reject past attitudes and values in order to align with values present at the institution. The survey data collected by the authors aligned with previous research performed by Tinto (1975, 1987, 1988, 1993 & 1998). Consistent evidence points to racial/ethnic minority groups receiving less support for college attendance thus leaving this student group at greater risk (Elkins, et al 2000).