“The camp is in a turnaround . . . climbing back after multiyear decline.” — Respondent, Fall 2012 Enrollment Survey

The Spring 2012 Enrollment Sneak Peek seemed to indicate a good summer ahead with 56 percent of responding directors indicating they had higher enrollments and 24 percent reporting about the same compared to a year ago.

This fall, we heard from directors who wanted to know:

  • How were camps’ enrollments and capacities for 2012?
  • How did enrollments fare when considering age and gender?
  • What was the effect of the economy and other societal factors on camper enrollments?
  • What discounts were the most popular?
  • Did type of camp, sponsorship, or location make a difference on enrollments?

Let’s take a look at what the fall 2012 survey results tell us!

A Word about the Survey

This year, 382 directors completed the online fall 2012 survey. General findings were analyzed for differences based on type of camp (resident, day), sponsorship (agency including governmental, religiously affiliated, independent nonprofit, and for-profit), and geographic area (New England, Mid-Atlantic, South, Mid-America, and West).

Were Enrollments Up? What about Capacity Targets?

Most directors felt that 2012 enrollments were better than 2011 enrollments (see Figure 1).

  • 73 percent of the directors reported the same (24 percent) or higher (49 percent) enrollments compared to the previous year, which was about the same percentage seen in 2008 before the economic slump.
  • Half of the camps with enrollment growth saw a 1–7 percent increase, and 18 percent saw an increase of 10 percent or better.
  • No overall enrollment differences were found by camp type, sponsorship, or geographic region.

Almost half the directors indicated summer 2012 was one of the best in the past five years (see Figure 2).

  • 31 percent reported that 2012 summer camp enrollment was the highest of the past five summers and another 19 percent said it was one of the best.
  • Only 10 percent said 2012 was the worst summer in the past five years.

Maxing out on capacity (actual or targeted) was not an issue.

  • Only 12 percent were at 100 percent actual capacity, with another 35 percent between 90–99 percent capacity; almost a quarter were less than 80 percent capacity.
  • When asked about their targeted capacity, 28 percent of directors reported reaching 100 percent of their targeted enrollment, with another 40 percent being within 90– 99 percent of their targets.
  • Camp directors actively managed their capacities to meet target numbers that made sense to them:
    • 27 percent strategically planned for reduced growth based on the current economic environment.
    • 26 percent limited enrollment for quality experience reasons.
  • Religiously affiliated camps were significantly different from other camps, with 46 percent reporting they were below 80 percent capacity.

How Were Enrollments When Considering Gender or Age?

Gender trends for enrollment in camper days were similar for boys and girls, with over one-third reporting an increase and another 41–43 percent saying they stayed the same.

  • For boys, more resident camps (one in five) indicated fewer boys enrolling than was true for day camps (one in ten); religiously affiliated camps showed mixed trends, with 25 percent lower and 46 percent higher than last year.
  • For girls, resident camps (39 percent) benefited from higher enrollments than day camps did (27 percent).
  • Trends by age groups were similar, with 36 percent of directors reporting they were higher for nine-year-olds and younger; 34 percent were higher for ten- to twelve-year-olds; and 36 percent were higher for teens.
  • Unsurprisingly, day camps (42 percent) had higher enrollments of the youngest campers, while resident camps (41 percent) had higher teen enrollments.

See Figures 3 and 4

What Discounts Were Most Popular?

Over 85 percent of the survey respondents offered discount options, with the most popular being discounts for early registration (57 percent), sibling/family discounts (55 percent), and economic need discounts (38 percent).

What Societal Issues Influenced Enrollments?

In the directors’ opinions, they agreed:

  • They were able to provide camper scholarships to children that needed them (69 percent).
  • Parents waited longer to commit to enrollment (55 percent).
  • The economy negatively affected enrollment (51 percent).
  • They had more requests for scholarships than last year (50 percent).
  • Children had more summer opportunities that resulted in greater competition (45 percent).

What Other Issues Deserve Attention?

  • Session length matters to some parents, as seen when seven- to eight-week sessions experienced lower enrollments (21 percent), while one-week sessions showed the greatest increase (44 percent).
  • Race/ethnicity of campers did not reflect the 46 percent minority statistic for the camp-age population (based on the 2010 Census).
    • 26 percent of camps had between 6–10 percent minority campers, 35 percent had between 1–5 percent, and 2 percent had no minority campers (especially true for religiously affiliated and for-profit camps).
    • 76 percent said their enrollment of minority campers had stayed the same from summer 2011.
  • Camp is easily perceived as an upper-middle-class experience, with 47 percent of the campers from middle-income families, 31 percent from high-income families, 17 percent from low-income families, and 10 percent from poverty-level families.
  • Enrollment of scholarship campers remained about the same for 52 percent of the camps but was higher for 29 percent of the camps. (However, 6 percent gave no scholarships.)
  • Returning camper rates stayed about the same for 64 percent of the camps, but one in four directors said their return rate was higher for summer 2012.

Positive Trends

The results indicate positive trends for many camps, even when analyzed by type, sponsorship, and geographic area. However, we know that while statistics help us quantify situations, the actual enrollment challenges experienced by individual camps are complex. As a community, we have information to help us understand some of these issues, but each administrative staff will have to discern how best to use the information. Bottom line for summer 2012 — it was a good rebuilding summer for the majority of our respondents!

Gratitude is extended to survey respondents for their data, time, and effort! For more detailed results, please visit www.ACAcamps.org/research/improve/enrollment.  

Who Participated in the Fall 2012 Enrollment Survey?

  • A total of 382 accredited camps (16 percent) responded.
  • Affiliation of camps
    • 23 percent agency (including governmental and municipal)
    • 16 percent religiously affiliated
    • 26 percent for-profit
    • 35 percent nonprofit
  • Type
    • 30 percent day
    • 70 percent resident
  • Clientele
    • 6 percent boys only
    • 12 percent girls only
    • 73 percent coed
    • 9 percent combination
  • Most popular session length
    • 17 percent < 1 week
    • 31 percent 1 week
    • 15 percent 2 weeks
    • 16 percent 3–4 weeks
    • 17 percent 5+ weeks
  • Regions
    • 15 percent New England
    • 37 percent Mid-Atlantic (ACA, Chesapeake; ACA, Keystone; ACA, New York and New Jersey; ACA, Upstate New York; ACA, Virginias)
    • 22 percent Mid-America (ACA, Great Rivers; ACA, Illinois; ACA, Indiana; ACA, Northland; ACA, Ohio; ACA, St. Louis; ACA, Wisconsin; ACA, Michigan)
    • 12 percent South (ACA, Texoma; ACA, Southeastern; ACA, Heart of the South)
    • 13 percent West (ACA, Evergreen; ACA, Northern California; ACA Southern California/Hawaii; ACA, Oregon Trail; ACA, Rocky Mountain; ACA, Southwest)

Read the Fall 2012 Camp Enrollment Survey Results and Analysis


Troy Bennett is an ACA research assistant working at the University of Utah. He is pursuing a doctoral degree in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department.

M. Deborah Bialeschki, PhD, is director of research for the American Camp Association. She can be contacted at dbialeschki@ACAcamps.org.  

Originally published in the 2013 March/April Camping Magazine.