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When universities and colleges announce the opening of a new sports facility or recreational center, students might feel reassured that their “student activity fees” have gone to good use. But to prove it, the schools are stepping up their efforts to learn exactly how and when students use these services, which enables them to offer the elements that students demand, as well as justify their capital expenditures.

By tracking student usage, the schools gather a wealth of valuable data that inform their next steps. For example, students at University of Florida had begun complaining that their activity fee was too high. When the school reviewed the data showing who was using its health facilities, it realized that graduate students came around 7:00 a.m., when the gym opened, but undergraduates did not. When it moved the opening an hour earlier to 6:00 a.m., undergraduates flooded the facility, because they still had enough time to get in a workout, shower, and make their early morning class. In addition, complaints about the fees dropped off, because the students believed they were getting their money’s worth.

Woman using elliptical machine in gymFor North Carolina State University in Raleigh, the usage data showed that far more students were taking fitness classes than were joining intramural sport teams. Thus, the rec center cut back the resources it allocated to intramurals and tripled the number of fitness classes, making sure that it offered what its students wanted, when and where they wanted it.

The GymFlow app available through University of California Los Angeles shows school administrators how many people are using each section of its gym at different times. In addition, it tabulates exactly how many students and employees—43,734—visited the center in a year. With this information, UCLA was able to show critics that its expenditures were worthwhile. For students, the same app reveals when their favorite piece of equipment is being used by lots of others, as well as when the quiet times are at the facility.

Purdue went a step beyond tracking usage to link exercise with scholastic performance. When it built a $98 million facility, not everyone thought it was a good idea. But the university was able to demonstrate that students who swiped their ID cards to access the gym also earned higher grade point averages than student who never came to work out. In a parallel study, a professor investigated the attitudes of participants in one of the gym’s kickboxing classes and found that regular participants indicated substantially lower stress levels.

Thus it might seem strange that a school would keep track of when its students are running around the track. But in truth, the information it gathers is valuable for justifying its resource allocations, as well as determining future investments in services for students.

Source: Rachel Bachman, “Colleges Are Tracking When Students Work Out at Rec Centers,” The Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2014, http://wsjonline.com

Discussion Question

In addition to usage data, what kinds of market research information could schools gather that would further assist them in making decisions about recreational facilities?