Freshman Orientation Should It Prepare You for College or For Life Itself

New Fitness Program for Coker College Freshmen

A college in South Carolina is trying to initiate some positive changes in the lives of its students while chipping away at our nation’s growing obesity problem. The current president of Coker College is passionate about fitness and healthy living, having been 100 pounds heavier when he, himself, was in college than he is now. So he wants to make sure, starting with this year’s freshman class, that the students at Coker are offered programs in “fiscal and physical fitness.” The institution’s curriculum therefore will now include a ‘healthy’ serving of fitness.

Main Components of the Program

Entering freshmen, first of all, will be required to take a physical fitness test. Also, students are ensured that in the cafeterias and/or dining halls, there will be wholesome, nutritious food options at each meal. Finally, a full program of carefully selected intramural and other activities has been put in place, including many unique choices, such as yoga, Zumba, and tubing—definitely not limiting students’ options to team sports and competitive pursuits. Students may even choose discussions with a dietitian. And, starting with this class, at least four of these activities (over the course of their college experience) are mandatory. The good news is that students may take part in as many of these as they want.

Smart Move?

Now, on the one hand, the program represents a wise move on the part of the administration, reflecting compassion and concern for every student admitted to the college. Many of us would have appreciated the care that went into planning this program and would have liked the opportunity to attend free fitness classes of various types and individual dietary planning. It is actually somewhat of a return to university requirements of several decades ago when four semesters of active physical education courses were requisite for graduation. But it seems Coker College is choosing to make the whole experience a little more fun. Mandatory weigh-ins and even optional weigh stations on campus were considered but nixed in light of potential problems of eating disorders, known to be pronounced in the college-age population.  Program officials are making the focus of the program health and fitness—not weight, size, or appearance.

On the other hand, taking this step—be it in the right direction or not—is sure to anger or at least frustrate some freshman and is likely to keep a few prospective students from applying to or enrolling at Coker. How do you feel about Coker’s approach to improving student fitness levels? If a college you were considering implemented such a program, what kind of influence, if any, would it have on your decision? Is this sort of thing going to extend the college student’s time on campus? If so, would it mean extra hours or extra semesters?

A Similar Program

One university (a historically black institution) tried a program with similar goals in 2009 and received much criticism from different fronts for targeting African-Americans and even for “racial abuse.” The faculty planners made some programmatic adjustments (namely removing the requirement for graduation) but stuck to their guns on mandatory health risk appraisals. They are reporting positive results.

Do you think it is the responsibility of a college/university to include some sort of fitness assessment when students enroll? And, if so, how much do you believe colleges can add to a student’s already burgeoning schedule in terms of required PE courses or physical activities? Or . . . should they just mind their own business when it comes to student health and fitness?

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