Camper Enrollment Continued Upward Trend in 2014

March 2015
Economically speaking, 2014 felt a little better across the nation. The Dow was up a bit, the jobs reports were somewhat positive, and people seemed to be spending money. Early in 2015 it still feels cautionary given the backdrop of the past few years, but there is a reason to feel optimistic after reviewing the results of the 2014 Enrollment Survey.
 
Overall, enrollment is continuing on an upward trend. Across the board, the majority of camps reported enrollment numbers that were at least maintaining the same levels they had in 2013, and, in many cases, increasing. We recognize that these upward trends may not be the story for every individual camp, but it is our hope that these charts and graphs provide some sense of how things have been going as an industry.
 
In total, 276 camps responded to the Fall 2014 Enrollment and Staff Recruitment Survey. As a group, the camps in the sample were fairly representative of overall ACA membership. The percentages of the different camp affiliations, types of camp, and ACA regions in the sample mirrored overall membership percentages. The following charts and graphs are based on these directors’ responses. A full survey report with more detailed information and additional statistics, graphs, and charts is also available here
 

Overall Enrollment

Total camper enrollment is trending upward beyond the low reported in 2009. Seventy-nine percent of camps reported their total enrollment for 2014 was the same or higher than the previous year, a continuation of a trend we have noticed for the past five years. This upward trend is great news for the industry as a whole, yet it is important to remember that one out of every five camps reported lower enrollment in 2014.

Significant differences existed across camp affiliation categories. In 2014, for example, 72 percent of agency-affiliated camps reported higher enrollment compared to 2013, while 32 percent of religiously affiliated camps reported lower enrollment. The chart below displays directors’ perceptions of enrollment in their camps in comparison to the last five years

When compared to the last five years

Enrollment by Gender and Age

Enrollment trends by gender were similar for both boys and girls, and the percentage of camps with lower enrollment of boys or girls has steadily decreased each year. The number of camps reporting their enrollment was about the same as the previous year has remained relatively stable.

There were some significant differences in enrollment for boys across camp affiliation in 2014. Survey wide, 11 percent of camps had lower enrollment of boys, 46 percent the same, and 43 percent higher. For-profit camps were unique, with 22 percent reporting lower enrollment for boys, 30 percent the same, and 48 percent reporting higher enrollment. Religiously affiliated camps reported the most stable enrollment for boys with 59 percent of camps having the same enrollment as last year.

Enrollment by age group was also very interesting. This year, only 11 percent of camps reported lower enrollment for campers ages nine and younger, 42 percent reported the same, and 47 percent reported higher enrollment. Day camps were surprisingly lower on enrollments for this age group with 23 percent of day camps reporting lower enrollment and 26 percent staying the same as 2013. While 51 percent of day camps reported an increase in 2014, the high percentage of lower enrollment coupled with the smaller percentage of camps staying the same is something to keep an eye on, especially considering that day camps are often identified as being a strategy for getting youth involved at a young age.

 
Enrollment trends for 10- to 12-year-olds looked solid. The increasing number of camps with the same enrollment as the previous year, coupled with the drop in percentage of camps reporting lower enrollment is an encouraging trend.
 
Enrollment trends for teenagers are slightly more complicated, much like teens themselves. The percentage of camps reporting lower enrollment remained constant at 22–23 percent for the last five years. The increase in 2014 of the percentage of camps reporting the same enrollment as the previous year corresponded with a decrease n the number of camps reporting higher enrollment. Overall enrollment trends for this age group seem to be plateauing.
 

Diversity

Diversity is an important issue at ACA. As we work toward our 2020 Vision, it is encouraging to see positive enrollment trends for campers from a minority racial group or ethnic background.

In 2014, 27 percent of camps reported having higher enrollment of minority campers, compared to 16 percent in 2013. This increase, along with the corresponding drop in the percent remaining the same, was driven by day camps. Forty percent of day camps reported higher enrollment of minority campers in 2014, and 55 percent reported the same as 2013.

These increases are particularly important considering the difference between the demographics of ACA campers when compared to national projections. While regional differences in populations exist, there appears to be an opportunity for camps to increase enrollment among campers who are Hispanic, black, or African American.

Overall, camps reported the following regarding the economic level of the families served: 12 percent of camper families were in poverty, 16 percent of families were low income, 47 percent of families were middle income, and 33 percent of families were high income.

Financial Assistance and Scholarships

Overall, 57 percent of camps reported that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “We had more requests this year for camp scholarships than last year,” and 83 percent of camps reported that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “We were able to provide camp scholarships to campers that requested them.”

There were significant differences in the number of scholarships provided that covered at least 50 percent of the camp fee. Fifteen percent of independent, not-for-profit camps provided financial aid of at least 50 percent of the camp fee for 300 or more campers. This figure was the highest of any affiliated group followed by 29 percent of agency camps, which provided financial aid to 100–199 campers, and 20 percent of religiously affiliated camps, which provided financial aid to 100–99 campers. Another 20 percent of religiously affiliated camps provided aid to 50–99 campers.
 
A higher percentage of overnight camps provided larger numbers of scholarships when compared to day camps. Regionally, 26 percent of Mid-Atlantic camps provided scholarships to 1–9 campers, 21 percent of camps in New England provided scholarships for 10–19 campers, and 20 percent of Mid-America camps provided scholarships for 100–199 campers.
 

Looking Ahead

So what do the enrollment trends from 2014 tell us? First, it was a good year for most camps. Sixty-eight percent of camp directors reported they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement: “The economy negatively affected my camp’s enrollment.” This finding indicates we might be moving beyond the impact of the economic downturn and should begin to look at other factors that influence enrollment.

The opinions of directors regarding 2014 enrollment factors provided interesting insights into potential challenges. For example, 90 percent of the directors disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement: “Weather or natural disasters negatively affected my camp’s enrollment,” and 75 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with “More parents enrolled their children in shorter sessions than last year.” On the flip side, 57 percent agreed or strongly agreed that “Changes in the school calendar negatively affected enrollment,” and 53 percent of the directors agreed or strongly agreed that “Children in my camp’s service area had more summer opportunities that resulted in greater competition with us.”

One factor that hasn’t been mentioned thus far is the importance of camper retention. In all of the graphs we examined, the highest percentages of camps reported that enrollment stayed about the same compared to the previous year. Returning campers made up the majority of this group. The lesson is straightforward and we all know it well: In the quest to attract new campers, we must make sure the experience of our current campers is of a high enough quality that they want to come back again next year.

A second lesson that can be taken from the 2014 enrollment trends is specific for individual camps: If enrollment at your camp does not match the trends, ask yourself why. Honest self-assessment might lead to changes or improvements that can make a difference. One self-assessment tool you might consider is the CPQA Staff Behaviors Checklist available here. Not only will camp staff at all levels benefit from thinking about these best practices and rating their own behaviors, but quality staff performing at high levels usually result in campers who want to return.

We would like to thank each director who participated in the 2014 Enrollment Survey. The trend information shared in this article was made possible by your willingness to participate in this study. If you weren’t able to in 2014, please consider contributing your camp’s information this year. The more camps participate in the survey, the better the information we all have to compare our individual experiences.

Enrollment highlights prepared by Troy Bennett. Troy is the ACA research assistant at the University of Utah.