By CVO Staff
Published January 2016

This article is a ranking of the 30 best value recreation degree programs. The programs included in this ranking were chosen from a pool of nearly 150 schools offering parks, recreation, and leisure studies degrees. The ranking includes programs from a broad section of the parks, recreation and leisure field and includes degrees in hospitality and tourism. Parks, recreation, tourism, and hospitality is a massive global industry, and a degree from a reputable university in your specific area of interest can get you off to a great start. In today’s economy, with student debt piling up ever higher on graduates, value is an important consideration. Cost, financial aid, program flexibility, and return on investment are all major concerns. That’s why we focus not just on the quality, but the value of the degree programs in our ranking. The exact methodology is presented in detail at the bottom of the article.

#30. University of Nebraska at Omaha — Omaha, Nebraska

BS in Education in Recreation and Leisure Studies

University of Nebraska-Omaha
Website
Rating: 8

The recreation administration degree at the University of Nebraska-Omaha is designed to prepare students for jobs in the areas of state and federal parks and recreation, health and fitness, rehabilitation centers, campus recreation, and city parks and recreation departments. Students will have the opportunity to take classes like social aspects of sport and leisure, facility design and management, outdoor recreation, and travel and tourism.

Tuition: $6,750
Average 20 yr. ROI: $210,300
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 86%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 1

#29. Bowling Green State University — Bowling Green, Ohio

BSE in Tourism, Leisure, and Event Planning

Bowling Green
Website
Rating: 8

The tourism, leisure, and event planning degree at BGSU gives students many global learning opportunities, including an exchange program with Southern Cross University in Australia, program field trips to Europe, Africa, and Canada, and the BGSU study abroad program. Students will take classes like recreation programming, and hospitality law. The program is accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism, and Related Professions (COAPRT).

Tuition: $10,726
Average 20 yr. ROI: $224,600
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 95%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 1

#28. California State University-Dominguez Hills — Carson, California

BSBA in Sports, Entertainment, and Hospitality

CSU-Dominguez Hills
Website
Rating: 8

CSU-Dominguez Hills’ sports, entertainment, and hospitality management degree is perfect for students who want to approach the industry from a business perspective. In addition to the core business courses, students will take classes in sports and entertainment marketing, principles of travel and tourism, hotel and resort management, trade show and event marketing, sports psychology, and managing sports facilities.

Tuition: $6,139
Average 20 yr. ROI: $288,600
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 84%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 1

#27. Grambling State University — Grambling, Louisiana

BS in Leisure Studies

Grambling State University
Website
Rating: 9

The COAPRT-accredited recreation degree at Grambling offers concentrations in general recreation and therapeutic recreation. Students in the therapeutic recreation concentration will take classes like disabling conditions in therapeutic recreation, legal liability in recreation and sport, and human growth/development. Students concentrating in general recreation have more flexibility and can take classes in program planning, urban recreation, craft design, management of leisure services, and inclusive and special recreation.

Tuition: $6,525
Average 20 yr. ROI: $61,500
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 99%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#26. University of Nebraska-Kearney — Kearney, Nebraska

Bachelor’s in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management

University of Nebraska Kearney
Website
Rating: 9

The recreation, park and tourism degree at UNK prepares students to work in a wide variety of organizations like hospitals, camps, YMCA and YWCA facilities, and parks at the local, state, and national levels. The program offers concentrations in management, travel and tourism, and natural resources and park management. Students will take classes in camp leadership, facility planning, research, program development, and management of programs. Recreation students have interned at Nebraska Games and Parks Commision, YMCA of Reno-Sparks, Cornhusker State Games, and Grand Canyon National Park.

Tuition: $6,586
Average 20 yr. ROI: $131,600
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 89%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 3

#25. Fort Lewis College — Durango, Colorado

BBA in Tourism and Hospitality Management

Fort Lewis College
Website
Rating: 9

The tourism and hospitality management degree at Fort Lewis College is an AACSB-accredited business administration program. Available classes in this program include management and organizational behavior, operations management, and business of gaming. Students can minor in adventure education, which includes classes like adventure education leadership, adventure processing and facilitization, philosophy and theory of adventure education, and wilderness expedition.

Tuition: $7,252
Average 20 yr. ROI: $143,800
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 93%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#24. University of Southern Mississippi — Hattiesburg, Mississippi

BS in Recreation (Therapeutic Recreation)

University of Southern Mississippi
Website
Rating: 9

This therapeutic recreation degree is designed to provide students the necessary qualifications to take the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification exam. Graduates who become certified therapeutic recreation specialists will be qualified to pursue job opportunities at nursing homes, hospitals, mental health facilities, physical rehab, substance abuse rehab, schools, and community recreation programs. Students will take courses like dynamic fitness, nutrition and human performance, and exercise physiology.

Tuition: $6,980
Average 20 yr. ROI: $174,100
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 95%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#23. University of South Dakota — Vermillion, South Dakota

BS in Recreation

University of South Dakota
Website
Rating: 9

Students in the University of South Dakota recreation degree program can choose between general recreation and therapeutic recreation emphases. This program is designed to prepare students for careers working with health clubs, fitness centers, camps, theme parks, community centers, YMCA, and boys’ and girls’ clubs. Students will have the opportunity to take classes like corporate wellness, recreation facilities and area design, special events for school and community, and recreation leadership.

Tuition: $8,022
Average 20 yr. ROI: $181,000
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 92%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#22. York College — York, Pennsylvania

Bachelor in Recreation and Leisure Administration

York College
Website
Rating: 9

The COAPRT-accredited bachelor degree in recreation and leisure administration at York College offers concentrations in recreation management and recreational therapy. Directed field experience and experiential learning in recreation are central components of the program. Students have been placed at Disney World, Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks, U.S. Parks Service, VA hospitals, Hershey Park, and even a U.S. Naval Air Station in Iceland. Graduates will be eligible to earn a Certified Park and Recreation Professional Certification, and a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Certification.

Tuition: $17,630
Average 20 yr. ROI: $242,500
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 99%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#21. Ohio University — Athens, Ohio

BS in Recreation Studies

Ohio University
Website
Rating: 9

Ohio University’s degree in recreation management is an interdisciplinary, COAPRT-accredited program. Required courses are spread across many departments at the school, including business, psychology, philosophy, communication, economics, and journalism. Some of the courses unique to the bachelor degree in recreation management include recreation and leisure in society, research and evaluation methods in recreation and leisure, law and society, consumer behavior, and convention and event planning. Students can also choose to minor in outdoor recreation and education.

Tuition: $10,602
Average 20 yr. ROI: $350,500
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 87%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#20. California State University-Northridge — Northridge, California

BS in Tourism, Hospitality, and Recreation

CSU-Northridge
Website
Rating: 9

CSU Northridge’s COAPRT-accredited recreation degree offers concentrations in hospitality and tourism or recreation management. Regardless of which track student choose, they will have access to some unique and interesting classes, which include recreation and the natural environment, backpacking, rock climbing and mountaineering, winter mountaineering, survival, caving, sailing, and waterskiing/wakeboarding. Graduates from the program have become recreation center directors, outdoor education specialists, camp directors, park rangers, and campus recreational sport directors.

Tuition: $6,549
Average 20 yr. ROI: $361,600
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 75%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#19. San Francisco State University — San Francisco, California

BS in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Administration

San Francisco State University
Website
Rating: 9

The COAPRT-accredited degree in recreation, parks, and tourism at SF State offers students the flexibility to create their own emphasis by selecting courses from a pool of electives. These courses include arts and crafts for leisure, recreation therapy and the expressive arts, developing and managing resources in nonprofit agencies, and both introductory and advanced courses in conference, event planning, and management. Some of the careers open to graduates of this program include adventure therapist, attractions manager, event planner, lifestyle coach, museum curator, naturalist, and outdoor adventure guide.

Tuition: $6,468
Average 20 yr. ROI: $372,400
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 70%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#18. San Diego State University — San Diego, California

BS in Recreation Management

San Diego State University
Website
Rating: 9

SDSU offers recreation administration students concentrations in outdoor resource management, recreation systems management, and sustainable tourism management. Outdoor resource management students will find jobs as education specialists, outdoor program leaders, and wildlife rangers. Recreation systems management opens doors in non-profit agencies, management positions in state and national parks, and event planner positions with municipal agencies and parks. Sustainable tourism management students often find career opportunities in state tourism commissions, planning green meetings and events, and creating sustainable solutions for tours, accommodation, transportation, and attractions.

Tuition: $6,866
Average 20 yr. ROI: $378,000
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 60%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 3

#17. Lindenwood University — Saint Charles, Missouri

BA in Recreation Administration

Lindenwood University
Website
Rating: 10

Students earning their degree in recreation administration from Lindenwood can choose an emphasis in community recreation management, outdoor recreation, sport and fitness management, or general recreation. Among the courses students will take are team-building and cooperative games, program planning and marketing, and fundraising. Graduates from this program have gone on to work at companies like Diamond Resorts International, Florissant Parks and Recreation, Carnival Cruise Lines, the YMCA, and Lake St. Louis Parks and Recreation.

Tuition: $15,580
Average 20 yr. ROI: $130,600
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 98%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 4

#16. Frostburg State University — Frostburg, Maryland

Bachelor in Recreation and Parks Management

Frostburg State University
Website
Rating: 10

The bachelor’s degree in recreation and parks management at Frostburg State offers students concentrations in community program delivery, adventure sports, hospitality management and tourism, and therapeutic recreation. Students of this program have taken advantage of internships at the YMCA, Disney resorts, state parks, and local parks and recreation departments. Adventure sports students will get to take classes in outdoor adventures, whitewater kayaking, and cross country skiing.

Tuition: $7,982
Average 20 yr. ROI: $193,500
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 87%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 4

#15. Southern Utah University– Cedar City, Utah

Bachelor’s in Outdoor Recreation in Parks and Tourism

Southern Utah University
Website
Rating: 10

For students interested in outdoor recreation, Southern Utah University is a perfect location with Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, Grand Canyon, and Pine View Mountains all within 100 miles. Students can choose to concentrate in public lands leadership and management, outdoor education, or outdoor recreation tourism. Graduates have gone on to work as tour guides, parks and recreation program management, and in the forest service. Students will have the opportunity to take classes like recreation ecology, and leadership in outdoor recreation.

Tuition: $6,138
Average 20 yr. ROI: $219,100
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 87%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 3

#14. Georgia Southern University — Statesboro, Georgia

Bachelor in Recreation

Georgia Southern
Website
Rating: 10

Georgia Southern University’s COAPRT-accredited recreation degree offers concentrations in outdoor recreation, recreational therapy, and tourism & community leisure services. Recreation students have taken advantage of experiential and service learning opportunities with organizations like Center for Wildlife Education, Georgia Southern Botanical Gardens, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, and Warnell Forest Education Center. Recent graduates have had a wide range of job opportunities with organizations like Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Army Corp of Engineers, and the United States Forest Service.

Tuition: $6,170
Average 20 yr. ROI: $269,300
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 89%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 3

#13. Winona State University — Winona, Minnesota

BS in Recreation, Tourism, and Therapeutic Recreation

Winona State
Website
Rating: 10

Winona State University offers students earning their bachelor’s degree in recreation concentrations in recreation and tourism, therapeutic recreation, and adventure tourism. Graduates of the program have taken advantage of career opportunities with the US Fish and Wildlife Services, USDA Forest Service, Minnesota Recreation and Park Association, National Alliance for Youth Sports, and the American Camp Association. The travel study program offers students the opportunity to study in Costa Rica, Australia, and New Zealand.

Tuition: $8,750
Average 20 yr. ROI: $267,000
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 88%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 3

#12. Utah State University — Logan, Utah

BS in Parks and Recreation

Utah State
Website
Rating: 10

The COAPRT-accredited recreation degree at Utah State University is a generalist degree that prepares students for a wide variety of careers working in hospital rehabs, schools, nursing homes, community mental health centers, casinos, country clubs, campgrounds, and conservation agencies. Students will have the opportunity to take classes like designing recreation experiences, outdoor recreation management, quantitative literacy, human development across the lifespan, and recreation and park facility planning and management.

Tuition: $6,250
Average 20 yr. ROI: $422,400
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 80%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 1

#11. California State University-East Bay — Hayward, California

BS in Recreation

CSU East Bay
Website
Rating: 10

The recreation degree at CSU-East Bay offers minors in recreation, hospitality, and recreation therapy. Students can also major in hospitality and tourism and select any of those minors. This bachelor’s degree in recreation can lead to a wide variety of positions, including after-school director, event manager, sports coordinator, aquatics manager, senior center manager, resort manager, camp director, or country club manager. Some of the unique classes available to students are social justice in hospitality, principles of meetings, conventions, and special events, facilities management and administration in leisure, and wellness through leisure.

Tuition: $6,564
Average 20 yr. ROI: $459,700
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 76%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 3

#10. San Jose State University — San Jose, California

BS in Recreation

San Jose State University
Website
Rating: 10

SJSU students earning their COAPRT-accredited degree in recreation can choose between recreation management and recreational therapy for their concentrations. Core courses for the program include healthy communities, and research and evaluation in recreation. Students in the management concentration will take classes like event planning, and for-profit enterprises in recreation. Therapeutic recreation courses focus on the rehabilitative properties of recreation with classes like recreational therapy interventions for people with physical conditions, and recreation therapy in mental health.

Tuition: $7,323
Average 20 yr. ROI: $579,100
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 67%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#9. University of South Alabama — Mobile, Alabama

Bachelor’s in Leisure Studies

University of South Alabama
Website
Rating: 11

Students in the leisure studies degree at the University of South Alabama can choose to specialize in either sport and recreation management, or therapeutic recreation. The sport and recreation management program prepares students for jobs in professional and global sport organizations, amateur sport programs, collegiate sports, government and community sport and recreation departments, and corporate wellness and fitness programs. Therapeutic recreation students will take courses like intergenerational recreation and wellness, nutrition and hunger, evaluation and research, and interventions.

Tuition: $7,188
Average 20 yr. ROI: $317,600
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 92%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#8. Brigham Young University — Provo, Utah

BS in Recreation Management

BYU
Website
Rating: 11

BYU’s COAPRT-accredited recreation management program is offered through the University’s Marriott School of Management. The two concentrations available to students are therapeutic recreation, and experience industry management. The experience industry management program is designed to prepare students for management positions with diverse organizations, from for-profit ventures like ski resorts, wilderness guiding companies, health spas, and hotel management to government positions with city parks and recreation departments, national and state park services, and land management agencies.

Tuition: $5,000
Average 20 yr. ROI: $633,100
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 68%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 2

#7. Missouri State University-Springfield — Springfield, Missouri

BS in Recreation, Sport, and Park Administration

Missouri State University
Website
Rating: 12

Missouri State offers a COAPRT-accredited degree in recreation with concentrations in health and wellness promotion, therapeutic recreation, parks and outdoor recreation, recreation management, and sport administration. Some of the unique course requirements are arts and crafts, dance and rhythms, drama and theater, outdoor education activities, and sports. Students entering the major must show proficiency in first aid and CPR and provide copies of their certifications prior to enrolling.

Tuition: $7,008
Average 20 yr. ROI: $171,300
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 90%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 5

#6. California State University-Long Beach — Long Beach, California

BA in Recreation

CSU-Long Beach
Website
Rating: 12

The COAPRT-accredited recreation degree offered by CSU-Long Beach features concentrations in community recreation, parks and outdoor recreation resource management, campus recreation and student services, and tourism management. The campus recreation and student services concentration features courses like recreational sports supervision, campus recreation services, and principles of nonprofit/volunteer management. The school also offers a minor in event planning management which includes courses like meeting planning in hotels and restaurants, and convention and conference planning.

Tuition: $6,452
Average 20 yr. ROI: $368,700
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 72%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 5

#5. California State University-Sacramento — Sacramento, California

BS in Recreation and Park Management

CSU Sacramento
Website
Rating: 12

CSU-Sacramento’s COAPRT-accredited bachelor’s degree in recreation and park management offers students concentrations in park and recreation resources management, recreation therapy, community recreation management, and commercial recreation, tourism, and hospitality management. Students in the commercial recreation program have found internships at Walt Disney World, Hyatt Regency Hotels, Club Med, Disneyland, Marriott Hotels, and Raley Field. Students from the resource management concentrations tend to intern with organizations like the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Tuition: $6,648
Average 20 yr. ROI: $432,300
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 79%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 4

#4. Jacksonville State University — Jacksonville, Alabama

BS in Sports Management and Recreational Leadership

Jacksonville State University
Website
Rating: 13

The recreation degree at JSU offers concentrations in sport management and recreational leadership. Students can choose to minor in coaching, community health, or exercise science. Students on both the sport management and recreational leadership tracks can take classes in legal and ethical sport management and recreation, organization and administration of camp programming, youth sports programs, outdoor pursuits expedition seminar, and recreational games/group development.

Tuition: $7,092
Average 20 yr. ROI: $208,400
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 92%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 5

#3. California State University-Chico — Chico, California

BS in Recreation Administration

CSU Chico
Website
Rating: 12

The COAPRT-accredited recreation administration program at CSU-Chico offers concentrations in community and commercial recreation and tourism, parks and natural resources management, resort and lodging management, recreation therapy, and event management. Students in the recreation therapy program will meet NCTRC requirements to pursue certification. The most customizable option is parks and natural resource management. Students of this option will get to select three electives from over thirty courses, including unique offerings like irrigation, museum collections management, field biology, and environmental impact analysis.

Tuition: $7,002
Average 20 yr. ROI: $481,900
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 68%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 5

#2. California State University-Fresno — Fresno, California

BS in Recreation Administration

CSU Fresno
Website
Rating: 13

CSU-Fresno’s COAPRT-accredited recreation degree offers concentrations in therapeutic recreation, adventure recreation & tourism, commercial recreation & event planning, community recreation & youth services, and sports & entertainment facility management. Graduates have taken jobs working in military recreation, resort/hotel management, school recreation, city parks and recreation, and more. Some of the interesting classes offered by the program are lifelong learning in the natural environment, challenge course facilitation, serving at-risk youth, special event planning, and sports and entertainment facility booking, promotion, and box office operations.

Tuition: $6,299
Average 20 yr. ROI: $369,900
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 79%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 6

#1. University of Toledo — Toledo, Ohio

BS in Recreational Therapy

University of Toledo
Website
Rating: 14

This COAPRT-accredited bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy offers concentrations in pre-occupational therapy, therapeutic arts, geriatrics, pediatrics, and communication. Students in this program will learn to help their clients cope with new limitations by introducing them to a variety of recreational activities, including horticulture therapy, humor, relaxation techniques, aromatherapy, tai chi, animal assisted therapy, and creative arts. Some of the classes available to students are leisure, recreation and aging, urban park and open space administration, project design, medical and clinical aspects of therapeutic recreation, and adventure therapy programming.

Tuition: $9,463
Average 20 yr. ROI: $340,200
Number of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 95%
Number of Concentrations, Tracks, or Minors: 5

Methodology

Our ranking system for determining the best value parks, recreation, and leisure degrees in the United States was simple. We awarded points based on four categories: low tuition, high return on investment, a high percentage of students receiving financial aid, and the number of minors, concentrations, or areas of emphasis offered within the program. Each of these categories contributes to the value of a program.

Tuition: Up front cost is one of two major factors in student borrowing. With student debt at an all time high, many students are looking for ways to graduate with as little debt as possible. Low tuition can drastically reduce student debt.

Financial Aid: The higher the percentage of students receiving financial aid, the more likely any individual student will be to receive some form of financial aid. A high likelihood of receiving financial aid, combined with a low tuition, works to reduce overall expenses.

Return on Investment: These figures give a rough guide as to the success of students graduating from the school over the following 20 years of their lives. The return on investment figures listed here are equal to the amount of money graduates from the school earn on average over and above the average earnings of people with no college degree. The ROI figures are from Payscale, for which we have included a link at the bottom of the article. You can find out more information about how they determine ROI on their website. ROI was used to break ties in our ranking, with the better ranking going to the school with the higher ROI.

Minors, Concentrations, and Emphases: Transferring schools can be a major expense. Often schools have different requirements for majors, and students lose credits in the process. It’s not unusual for students to extend their education by a semester or more by transferring schools. Schools with plenty of options within a student’s given major provide students with the ability to switch between minors and areas of emphases without transferring schools, thus saving time and money.

Below is the outline of our ranking system detailing how points were awarded to schools.

Tuition Points

Under $10,000: 3 Points
Under $20,000: 2 Points
Under $30,000: 1 Point

Students Receiving Financial Aid:

60%: 1 Point
70%: 2 Points
80%: 3 Points
90%: 4 Points

20 Year Average Net Return on Investment Points

$200,000: 1 Point
$300,000: 2 Points
$400,000: 3 Points
$500,000: 4 Points
$600,000: 5 Points

Minors, Concentrations, and Emphases Points

One point per minor, concentration, emphasis, option, or track.

Sources

The return on investment figures were sourced from Payscale.com

The tuition and financial aid information was sourced from The National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator Database

This concludes our ranking of the 30 best value bachelor’s degrees in parks, recreation, and leisure.

 

Further Reading: