Courtney sits down with Andrew Darling, director of Campus Recreation, and Sera Zegre, the Coordinator for Research for Campus Recreation, to discuss a new study just published that highlights the link between campus recreation facility use and student retention! It’s exciting stuff. To check out the study, you can visit WVU’s institutional repository: https://researchrepository.wvu.edu/faculty_publications/2086/. For the publishers’ version, see https://doi.org/10.1177/1521025120921347. Sera and Andy want to thank their coauthors, Rodney Hughes and Craig Decker.

Transcription: 

All right, everyone. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to Wellbeing Wednesday's ,your weekly podcast brought to you by the office of student wellness here at West Virginia University. I am your host, Courtney Weaver. I'm the director over at well WVU. I am joined today by not one, but two different guests. Uh, both of them are representing our campus recreation department.

We have Andrew Darlene, who is the director of campus rec. And then we have Sarah zag who is the coordinator for research at campus recreation. So I'm going to give them a C. Second or two to introduce themselves and their role at the university. So, Andy, why don't we start with you? Sure. Thanks Courtney.

Um, so you have, um, the director of Campus Recreation going on, uh, five years in that role. Uh, the summer. Um, or actually coming on six, five class, um, and, you know, re really been engaged in, uh, work with, with colleagues, such as yourself for the office of student wellness. Um, excited to, to see some of the growth both in, in our department and our, the emphasis on campus of, of wellbeing and, and some of the initiatives that surround it.

Um, one of the pieces that we had had continued to look at. And I think we're, we'll talk about a lot today. If some of the research that we had Sarah, uh, really dig into was the impacts of, uh, of, uh, the things that we, that we offer in particular. We looked at, uh, usage of ER, visits to the student recreation center.

So that's one of the things, one of the data points that we can measure. Um, and, and really the, the piece that was the really kicked it off, I guess, was looking at. Other research that was done in our field. And a number of folks had set out with either the same or similar goals to try to quantify some of the value.

And I think they're in, in many cases, there were things that were either inconsistent or missing in those. Not all, but in many of those studies that cause people to tend to, to knock them down and, and to be critical. And so we said, fine challenge accepted. We'll go through and create a real rigorous, uh, analysis.

And so we, it's not just our opinion. We, we believe this, but we want to have the data. So we want to actually demonstrate that. And, and, and that really didn't go anywhere with the amount of time required. It, it just Wendell. So we hired Sarah, um, and that's where things really, really kicked off and, uh, and so excited to see the results of the work she's done so far.

And, and some, uh, some, some more of the plans we have for, for future research. Right. Well, thanks, Andy. And Sarah, why don't you give a brief overview of what you do in campus recreation? Sure. Um, so my name is Sarah Johnson, Zack and I, this, I think this summer marks my third year of working with campus rec.

Um, and I met Andy actually, as I was teaching in the Davis college teaching research methods, um, to upper level undergraduate students, and actually engage with Andy to do some research for campus recreation and, uh, Got some, got some cool collaborations there and then realized that, um, campus rec could use even, even more help.

And we started talking about ideas and I said, I, I think I can do that with you. And, uh, we've been working on this project since the beginning. I didn't know if we wanted to talk about the fact that, um, adventure West Virginia, um, kind of looked at their program and was kind of trying to assess how, um, Assess the relationship between participation and outcomes and they did, they worked with IRR institutional research to do, um, I say, I don't know if we want to talk about this, but, um, they, they worked with institutional research to, to do a study and a lot of programs at the university, um, work with institutional research and, um, I think early on, I said, well, we don't have to work with instinct.

I mean, we can work with them, but we could do it in house. And, and that's what we ended up doing. We worked with them to get the, to get the data, um, And used our own swipe card data and mashed it together to look at the relationship between rec center use and academic outcomes. Great. All right. So I think what's really cool is to sort of highlight the fact that your role Sarah in campus recreation is, is a rare one.

Um, it's, it's rare to have someone whose sole job is research into campus recreation because there's a misconception that campus rec is just the gym. On campus that you just go on, you could work out. And as long as you're a student, you're a member and then that's it. And that's all that they offer. But give us recreation is so much more and actually is a really pivotal partner when it comes to student retention and persistence.

And so what you two have been referencing in your introductions is a study that you've just published. Earlier this month in may, um, that is called the relationship between campus recreation, facilities and retention for first time undergraduate students. So, Andy, could you explain a little bit more why it was so important to study this particular topic?

Sure. It's as you mentioned, there are, um, And I don't know that the, the, uh, the thoughts are incorrect. I just, I don't think they go far enough. I mean, we, we, we certainly are a fitness facility. We are a gym. We are a place where people hang out and have fun and that, which is, are fantastic outcomes that we, we are really excited about.

But for a lot of people, it's, it is more, um, from an institutional standpoint, We, uh, I think are valued as a recruitment tool. It's a nice, uh, pretty building and, uh, cool atmosphere and vibe for people that are coming through on a campus tour. Um, and that's true as well. Um, but it doesn't stop there. And so we know that that those that utilize the, uh, direct center are, are.

I'm gonna do better in, in those outcomes either in GPA. Yeah. Or, or in, uh, in retention. And that, those are the pieces that we really wanted to make more than just our opinion. Oh. A lot of folks in our field have the same opinion. Um, but that doesn't necessarily translate to folks that are trying to weigh what's what's more important.

What, what areas should. Um, receive more or less emphasis, what areas should we be trying to encourage our students that finite amounts of time? Where should we encourage our students to spend their time? Um, is it while you shouldn't spend all that time at the rec center, you're, you know, you really should be spending it elsewhere.

Um, and, and we would counter that, but that's, we know that's kind of baked in to the folks that. That we work with. So how, how can we actually demonstrate that? And then it's probably notable too, that we chose in this case and, and Sarah doggedly pursued this, the, the, uh, journal that you referenced, um, is one that's not, uh, published by our industry.

That's not one that is, uh, typically contributed to by our peers. Um, and it's not one that has really that captive audience that, you know, we're not preaching to the choir. We're we're really talking to folks that are, are focused every day on what types of things will affect student academic success and specifically in terms of retention.

Well, that is fantastic. And so Sarah, why not? You tell everyone a little bit about the methodology that you use. So how did you. Find your data points and put them together and all that good stuff. Um, could I, before I do that, could I, um, dovetail in some of what Andy was saying, knock yourself out. So, um, I think to add, to what to add to what Andy was saying, that the, I think.

At WVU specifically, we have 5,000 students that come in every year and over 20% of those don't return the next year. And that cost of not returning is huge. And, and I think we're WVU is interested in that not happening, but also nationwide. These trends are occurring and also nationwide trends are occurring.

Um, less and less students are coming in. And now in the wake of COVID, I think we're worried about, are we going to be retaining people? Are we going to be cartoon books? This is a serious thing for four institutions nationwide. And so I think we're all really focused on retention. I think the studies within campus recreation and in a lot of these student life, you know, have shown that engagement.

Um, offers so many things besides retention, like respect for others, cooperation, stress relief, sense of belonging. All these studies have found these things, but this study, we wanted to specifically look at retention, um, given the kind of heightened importance. And now it's even more so during, um, the global pandemic of, of retaining retaining students, it takes a lot to get them here and then to keep them here is really important.

Well, thanks for that. Expansion on what Andy says is helpful. Um, so let's focus now, back on that methodology question, how, how did you do the study? I need to back up. I need to refer. I think I have, I see I'm can't even limit myself cause my brain is still thinking like. More, I have more to say Sarah, for our listener.

Sarah is like the consummate researcher. And say, when I said that there was going to be a time limit of about 12 minutes. She's like, I can't talk about anything in 12 minutes. That sounds like educators feel too like, Oh, you're given an hour. I'm like, that's not enough. I need more.

Well, so what we do, um, we, we have, um, a really unique thing at the campus and in the, in, in campuses, but specifically at the rec center, we have swipe cards. So when people come in, they use their swipe card. So we know how many people have come into the rec center, you know, during what duration, um, Of it in their academic life, I guess I should say.

Um, and institutional research carries a lot of information about these students and we were able to work with institutional research with the HVAC files and the student financial aid, and even the housing records to match up the swipe card data. Um, to that. So we were able to, um, of course de-identify it, all these processes with de-identifying students and, um, protecting confidentiality and anonymity and, and grouping them together and reporting results in summary form.

Um, so we're protecting our students and also these are from years past. Um, of course all of this is, is done with a, um, With, uh, IRB approval. Thank you, IRB approval. So we have an IRB record on file, but, um, so we've, we've paired all this information to students. So instead of just saying, Hey, if you use the rec center, what's your academic outcome, we're able to, um, use a regression or use a model to throw all these variables into control for those to minimize the impacts of let's say.

Having a low economic profile or having a low high school GPA coming into it. So you can't just say, Oh, well, Yeah, I'm not actually going to give a good example off the top of my head. So I'll stop there. I think one of the things that you really tried to set out to do was to, to combat the initial, I almost read your knee jerk reaction that says, well, yeah, but you can't point to that as, as the reason why those people retained, they might've had more, they're more affluent.

So they had more time to go to, to go to the rec center or. They came from a background where they were already predisposed to be successful. And you control for all those pieces and, and tried to remove those objections, uh, hopefully, or at least minimize them. Thanks, Sandy. Exactly. A lot of the past studies have been very descriptive in nature and having incorporated, um, multiple variables like that.

And some have, um, we've taken it to another extreme by not just including all these variables, but included a matching approach. So you're matching like people and then running statistics and then seeing the outcome. And that's why some of our results show a range of the impact of the relationship. Ooh, that sounds way too sciency for me.

But, but using the matching approach is, is not only the regression is very robust, but taking it to another level of statistical matching, um, you know, it'd be great to say, Oh, well, people use the rec center and that cause is good as grades, but that's not what this type of study is able to do this type of thing.

Set up and methods and using this type of secondary data is able to do, we're just able to look at, is there a relationship? And in fact there is. And to what extent is that relationship? What's the magnitude of the relationship and we measure the magnitude in this case, we're looking at well, we looked at GPA and retention, but the study we published just recently looks at retention that first year retention.

So we looked at first time freshmen, um, because the majority of dropouts that occur happen within that first year, um, In that, that first group. And, um, and then we just looked at the first year retention as the outcome. Okay. And so what were the overall results? You've kind of hinted at it, but

yeah, there is a positive, there's a positive relationship. It's positive and significant relationship between facilities, recreation, facilities, and retention and GPA. Um, including, uh, the, and this is where I give the range. So basically 7.1 to 8.4, so seven to eight percentage points, higher retention for those full time.

First time undergraduate users. Wow. Which is a great result to say in comparison to the non-users. Yeah. That is a great result. Any other comments on that? Or. Just that, you know, for someone it's been a long time since I was involved in statistics classes. Um, and so. Yeah, context matters. Seven, eight, uh, uh, points is, is huge.

Um, and we, we look at initiatives on campus where we're, we're turning over every stone to try to find like a 1%, um, uh, increase and seven, eight. Is is, is huge. That was, uh, super exciting. And you know, every, every day is Sarah has been working on this for the last few years and she come run down the hall and say, Hey, I found something else new.

It's just, it's exciting. And, and, uh, I don't know that that. Continues to bubble up in me where I'm like, yeah, seven to eight. That's awesome. Anyway, cartwheels in the hall kind of exciting, but maybe that's what you do at rec centers. When you get excited, it's a huge, even 1% is a big deal at tuition driven institutions.

And especially in this era where we're focused on retention. But another big thing is that this is only looking at student rec center use. It's not looking at. Um, club or intramural sports, we have a huge impact there and likely, um, actually I've done some initial analysis and a stronger impact if you're thinking about sense of belonging and things that contribute to retention.

Um, but also these are just first time freshmen so that we looked at in the study. So really what's unique. And a lot of people have done studies looking at first time, freshmen retention, and they're looking at like a program. Maybe that serves 40 people, maybe that serves, you know, the honors college has a very high rate of retention, but the amount of people that we spent that that group serves is very small in comparison to what we have in campus rec.

We're supposed to be serving not only first time freshmen, but the entire student body, the entire faculty staff, and even in some cases, the community. So we have a huge charge. And so any the fact that, yeah, this is, this is. I think finding it is a, and so what are the implications for this study moving forward?

Like, do you plan to look at perhaps second year students, third year students or on their attention, or what are you going to do with the results? I think to stay on this scope is the scope. These findings are huge within this really narrow scope. And I think it really shows the importance.

Oh, I lost my train of thought, Andy, while she tries to find it. Did you have any comments on the implications of this study? Yeah, I do. I think we, what we would ideally like to do is continue to follow more than. Then that first year retention, but also persistence as the students progress year to year.

And then with, with enough data to look at graduation rates, or are we able to look at that as, as an effective predictor? You know, to what extent there's, there's, there's a corollary there. Um, also looking at the impact, the, one of the things that is. As soon to come online is Reynolds hall, which is the new BNB complex.

Um, uh, that's that's being built downtown we'll will essentially be a tenant in that space about, uh, 8,500 square feet of, uh, weight and fitness space in that building. We know one of the things that impacts. How well we serve our students is where, where they live. So they spend most of their time downtown.

We know they're less likely to be one of our regular users and some of that's just the way we believe just the logistics of getting to us. So we're going to change and I'm delighted that we're going to, but we're going to change one of the variables in that just by adding more, uh, facility space downtown.

And so that that'll take a little while to see if there's an impact there, but. That's I find it interesting. I think that that's something that we can look at, um, to what extent are we are able to impact those folks. And can we do comparative data between the two facilities and that somebody spent more time in one or the other?

One of the things that I like is. Doing all the what if stuff? And then you try and run the analysis. You're like, man, that didn't tell us anything or, Oh, that's interesting, but we don't understand it. So let's look at something else. Um, so anyway, I think there's there, there's a whole lot of other pieces and we're going to keep Sarah as busy as possible.

Well, this study is from three years of data. Um, and so three different cycles of fresh first-time undergraduate students. And, and it also is from business as usual. So we haven't done anything specifically related to increasing the retention or. Or any we haven't focused on. So now we have a baseline, basically.

So now, if, if we're doing, if we're really focusing on collecting and analyzing data, I think it shows it's super important to be collecting and analyzing data that can serve to assess new programs and facilities that we may be putting out there in the future. Um, one of the things I did at mentioned from earlier is not going to talk about it right now.

Well, Oh, no, it's fine. If someone keeps texting me, this is the problem. When you record on your computer, I'm like stop doing that. Um, but no, uh, well this is great. So, uh, for those of our listeners who are interested in accessing the text of this study, we're going to put the link in the description of the podcast.

So you have, Oh my goodness. I am so sorry.

And he's like, just try it again for awhile here. It's fine. Um, We're going to put the link to the study in the description of today's podcast. So people can go and take a look at it themselves. I recommend that you do cause it's really great. Uh, and now for our wellbeing snapshot, let's talk a little bit about campus recreation and the time of COVID-19 because the facility obviously isn't open, cause it's not yet deemed to be safe for our community members.

Um, so talk a little bit about how you're staying connected to students and still offering fitness services. Yeah, the, our fitness programming has been the piece that we've most consistently been able to deliver. Um, our, our instructors have been putting together at home workouts and so they're, they're filming them in their home.

So it's the equipment that you might have handy, um, included like a way to jug, um, and doing some, some. Really, I think realistic. Here's what you can, can get done in your house or apartment. I'm looking at those in a range of different formats, different intensity levels. And then those, those are all on our YouTube channel.

Um, so you can go back and look at them in the future. Um, we also are in the process of rolling out, um, some live stream workouts. So, uh, The summer instructors have said, yeah, this is cool. And I'm enjoying it, but I would love to have some, some feedback. So we'll see. Um, I know some other programs across the country are, are doing some things, uh, via zoom, where you can have some participant feedback during the class.

We would also record that. So it's available, um, to try to reach them some more folks. And we'll keep doing that. I would anticipate, you know, we, we continue to talk about once we're back to normal, whatever normal, it looks like. What are we going to keep doing that we started to do right now, and we might continue to offer some online content.

Um, we also, some of our, uh, by, by virtue of some of the different vendors we work with, uh, Les mills is, uh, uh, we, we teach a lot of their course formats as a result of that contract, our users have access to their. They're streaming, uh, classes. Um, another product that we have. They've been providing content for our instructors to then demo, uh, that doesn't, it doesn't have the tech that you would be used to.

If you're familiar with our 45 studio, it doesn't have the same equipment, but a pretty similar, um, workout in terms of intensity. So, so there's, there's a variety of pieces there. Uh, we have been doing some amount of, um, Uh, little safe competitions, um, that you can do in a trick shack con competition, where you could, uh, you could film yourself doing whatever kind of form of trick shot you want it to.

Um, so we'll continue those pieces. And then e-sports is another piece that as we, as we get into the fall, um, we've had some connection to in the past and we'll expand that. I think the biggest challenge is everyone is realizing is, is to try to, to balance the amount of time that we expect our students to spend engaging via a screen.

And, and at one point, are we offering things that are lose utility because tired of staring at the screen. Um, so I'm trying to, uh, do a number of more creative things. So we'll see what that looks like. Well, that's fantastic. So everyone go check out campus, Rex virtual offerings, and I want to thank Sarah and Andy for joining me today via zoom.

Cause we're all still working from home. Although let's be honest. I might continue this when we go back to campus. Cause it's really convenient to do, to record this way. Um, so thank you both and thank you to everyone who's listening. So we'll see. Catch you next time on Wellbeing, Wednesdays. And we are going to change our format for this summer and only release probably about one episode per month, but then back at it on a weekly basis in the fall.

So thanks for listening and we'll catch you next time on Wellbeing, Wednesdays. Okay. Okay. Bonus Encore time. We have to give Sarah a pocket of time to give us a punchline that she had. Well, maybe it's appropriate that it's bonus because we didn't include this in the original study. And then a reviewer captured a question, and then we found this whole new.

Kind of, you know, again, what I, what I think of as a Cartwheel in the hallway kind of finding. So, um, one of our reviewers in the, in this time of trying to publish this paper, asked about, um, different samples, so different samples of students there's, um, you know, all students we've seen this, um, This relationship between campus rec participation in the way of swipe card, data and academic outcomes, but they said, well, what about the students that maybe, you know, that have a factor that contributes to drop out?

So we know that Pell grant students, um, Pell grant recipients, um, that could contribute to drop out, given a financial burden first-generation students and students with low high school GPA. Well, all of the students, we did some sub sample analysis on and we actually found that, um, there's. For example, student users who were first generation had almost 11 percentage points, higher retention than their non-user cohorts.

So, and this is the case for first for Pell grant recipients as well. And it actually goes even higher than 12 percentage points, um, for the students with low high school GPA coming into it. So what we're seeing is. And what we need to program for is the higher impacts for the students who have some risk factors for, for dropout.

Wow. Yeah. Is really important to share. So, uh, thanks for, for the extra bonus stack. So now our phone is time Encore is over and looking at you next time.