Ad Hoc General Education Committee

Wellness Course Important for Incoming College Freshmen

Written By: Robert Wolff - Sep• 30•11

*Posted for David Harackiewicz (Department of Physical Education and Human Performance), Harackiewicz@ccsu.edu.

[Editor’s note: for supporting information, see files attached below.]

The Department of Physical Education and Human Performance feel that it is very important the university uphold a fitness/wellness requirement for freshmen students as a strong and integral part of the academic general education curriculum.  Bombarded by popular culture, newfound freedom, and peer-pressure, the freshmen student is at high risk of making unhealthy choices.  The American College Health Association (2006) reported that 35 percent of students on college campuses are overweight or obese.  In addition, an even larger percentage of college students (46%) are attempting to lose weight, suggesting false perceptions regarding personal weight and body image.  Of the 46 percent who attempt weight loss, only one out of three report receiving an education from their college or university regarding physical activity, wellness living and healthy dietary guidelines.  A recent finding published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2011) found that children who were the heaviest –top fourth -were more than twice as likely to die early from natural causes, such as alcoholic liver disease, cardiovascular disease, infections, cancer and diabetes, as children whose weight put them in the lowest quarter of the population. Obesity adversely affects not just one risk factor like cholesterol but a whole host of them, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar and chronic inflammation in the body.  These topics are discussed along with prevention strategies in the curriculum of the PE 144 Fitness/Wellness Ventures course.

We have very good data that we have collected about the importance of this course for our freshmen students as they enter their college years. This is based on evaluations that the students do about the course every semester and whether they feel it is important to them.  We have over 8,000 evaluations from students between Fall of 2002 and Spring 2011 that believe this is an important course during their freshmen year.   79% reported agreeing or strongly agreeing that the class gave them the skills and strategies to positively modify their present behavior and lifestyle.  We also have comprehensive learning outcomes assessment data (rubric) from the past two years that show positive results for our students.  Two major projects that they do in class are a nutritional analysis paper and behavior change journal.  We have seen significant changes that students have made with regard to problem or unhealthy behaviors that they may have exhibited prior to the class.  We have excellent documentation of student summaries that provide this information.  A recent study from the “American Freshman” annual report released in January 2011 confirms the importance of a fitness/wellness class for all freshmen at CCSU as part of general education.  This annual survey is considered the nation’s most comprehensive assessment of college students’ attitudes with responses from more than 201,000 incoming freshmen around the country.  An important finding was that college freshmen reported higher levels of emotional stress than their predecessors.  The lead author of the report said, “What it means is that going into college, students are already feeling more stress and feeling more overwhelmed and have lower emotional reserves to deal with stress.” A third of the content in this course helps students develop strategies to manage their stress so they are emotionally stronger during their four years in college.  Labs are done so students can practice stress management techniques that they can use in their daily lives.  The importance of being physically fit is also another importance concept covered in this course.  Some class activities are done to let students explore ways they can become more physically fit within their busy lives.  A recent Texas Education Agency News report (2009) found that higher levels of fitness were associated with better academic performance and better school attendance.  We have learned from Provost Lovitt’s presentation last year that attendance in class is one of the best predictors of academic performance.

In this day and age of the importance of health and wellness of college students it is important that we continue to have our freshmen students take a course of this nature as part of their general education curriculum.  In fact, all of the other CSU sister schools have a health promotion/wellness class as part of general education.   As higher education seeks to promote and affirm adult living, attributes such as personal well-being, sense of identity and an increase in personal responsibility are essential goals of institutes of higher learning.  An effective university general education wellness course will provide an avenue for college freshmen to engage in a process of self-reflection and personal emotional growth.

Dr. David Harackiewicz
Department of Physical Education and Human Performance

Attached files:

PE144 Learning Outcome Data
PE144 Student Survey Data
PE144 Journal Excerpts

 

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One Comment

  1. To put the cards on the table: I had about eight years of health education and maybe eleven or so of physical education. By maybe the second or third year, if not the end of the first year, there was nothing new to me, with the exception of some more intricate questions about designer drugs.

    Being a transfer student, I didn’t take PE 144, even though I somewhat wanted to, more out of curiosity about the curriculum than anything else.

    While I am sure that the class is helpful to some students, what the journals show me most strongly is that students need more serious English and “writing across the curriculum” enforcement. I also think that the journals posted would be ideal candidates for the “results not typical” label. I haven’t taken any surveys on campus that would leave margin for students to consciously lie… I just lived on campus last semester and saw (and heard) people’s “health behaviors” across campus.

    I think that the class is not a necessary component of the general education curriculum, even though improving my health has been one of the most beneficial things I’ve ever done for my academic career. The issue is that students lack the curiosity and/or ability to think critically about information and offers presented to them regarding drugs, sex, get-thin-quick schemes and so on. Students who can think critically about health and wellness can also think critically about economics and politics… pretty much all of the information in the world is readily available to us within a few keystrokes. Not having much experience with this class, I’ll just say that it would be extremely difficult to get me to believe that a course that promotes the FDA’s dietary guidelines also promotes critical thinking.

    If the goal is to get students to value and improve their own health, I would say that a different course, focusing on the biochemical and psychological aspects of food, sex, drugs and stress, be created as a substitute. We know the social aspects because we live in the thick of them. Most students (people) have a “hand-me-down” approach to their thoughts about these things: the FDA (a force with political and financial motives) makes claims, magazines make claims, older friends and family make claims… science finds facts. The facts that students need if they want to make good decisions about these things are found within biochemistry.

    If the goal is actually to improve the well-being of students, I would say that a more extensive amount of resources should be allocated to that task, but that task is probably better served by assigning freshmen to “development coaches” and giving all students the ability to continue to interact with their coaches throughout their time at the school.

    I know that at my last school, I was very close with my academic advisor, as were about 12-14 other students; he helped me to sort through my academics, my social life, my career intentions, my spiritual life (only because we agreed that it was appropriate), my emotional life and so on. I saw him for maybe a half hour every other week, just to touch-base, talk about goals, confusion, progress. He’d recommend things that I should do, books or articles that I should read, films or music I should check into. He’d tell me stories about his own experiences and point me toward people who could help with situations he didn’t know about. He always went above his pay grade, for sure.

    That is a lot of responsibility for an academic advisor and it only worked at our school because only a dozen students took him up on it, so he had sufficient mental space and energy to treat us as individuals, listen to us and speak to us. I do not know how many students professors at CCSU serve as advisors, but I figure that it is a few more than a dozen. But if there is some way to establish mentorship (from a professor or otherwise) for freshman and for students as they continue to deal with their lives at CCSU, I think that would be the best investment in all facets of health and development.

    I think that the goals of PE144 are noble and of high importance, but I think that they are probably not as efficiently or prominently achieved as they would be through other means.

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