One thing should be obvious — campus recreation programming is very important. It’s the greatest tool at your disposal for driving student engagement.
Having a modern facility and the most cutting-edge equipment won’t mean a thing if you can’t get students through the doors. You must come up with ways to make your programs stand out.
Vicki Highstreet, the associate director for recreation programming at the University of Nebraska, spoke on the importance of campus recreation programming. “Give the students what they want through creative programming,” said Highstreet. She also advised campus recreation directors not to be afraid of inventing creative methods for drawing students in, rather than waiting for them to come in on their own.
Students, just like consumers at health clubs, want to feel part of a community. Providing them with several programs will go a long way in helping students get involved in campus recreation.
Nebraska has accomplished high student involvement with many campus recreation programs, including outdoor activities, an aquatics facility and classes, sport clubs, intramural and extramural sports, wellness services, fitness programs, and injury prevention services. With so many options aimed for students to choose from, it’s almost impossible for anyone to not get involved.
Some of the programs even extend their reach beyond campus and into the surrounding community. “Outreach programs for the likes of high school football teams, OLLI (Oschner Lifelong Learning Institute), preschool and childcare centers, academic departments, and student groups,” said Highstreet when asked to describe the programs. The department also has eight weeks of day camp each summer with around 150 children attending per week.
Reaching out into the community is a great way to connect students to the town they live in. Bridging the gap between campus and community is a unique way to encourage involvement in recreation programs.
But how do you find the right programs? Obviously, you won’t hit a home run with each program you roll out, but there is a certain method you can use to determine what campus recreation programming has the highest likelihood of success.
According to Highstreet, programs at Nebraska are identified in four different ways: which programs are tried and true, programs from student input and requests, trends identified by professionals, and from instructor and leader requests.
And of course, having the right staff in place is key to make all the gears turn. Nebraska staffs its campus recreation programs with trained professionals, a common practice for many universities. “[We value] the high level of expertise and intentional lifelong learning and development attitudes of our professional staff … who are encouraged and supported in their continuous development,” said Highstreet. “They’re staying on the cutting edge of their specialty area and have passion to help students actualize their skill development through recreational activity.
At the end of the day, your campus recreation programming should be about engaging the students around you. Think about what will encourage them to emphasize health and wellness, and adjust your programs to reflect that goal. Keep your finger on the pulse of your campus and fine-tune your methods based on what the students want.
And how can a recreation department accomplish this?
“Continuous evaluation of the types of programs being offered,” said Highstreet. “Think about their relevance to the clientele being served and how it fits into your overall mission.