Fewer Colleges Require Physical Education Classes to Graduate: Study
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- Roughly 32% of colleges require a physical education course to graduate, according to an Oregon State study.
- That figure has declined by about 7 percentage points since 2010, according to the study.
- The study also found that 12% had a partial requirement for physical education.
- The study included courses that teach strategies to "maintain lifelong physical activity lifestyles."
Physical education (PE) requirements at colleges have been on the decline for decades — and a new study shows that downward trend continuing across the country.
Roughly 32% of colleges and universities in the United States currently require a physical education course to graduate, according to an Oregon State University study of 331 schools, down from 39% in the school's 2010 study.
Brad Cardinal, the study's co-author and a professor at the Oregon State College of Public Health and Human Sciences, said in a release that previous research has shown that students who attend higher education institutions with physical education requirements are more likely to meet national physical activity guidelines.
"There's an enormous amount of scientific evidence supporting the value of physical activity. It's good for the human body, good for students — it helps them be better learners, better prepared; it increases cognitive functioning and helps with stress management," Cardinal said in the release.
The study also found that 12% had a partial requirement for physical education, meaning students could choose another health-related subject or that physical education is only required by certain degrees at a school.
The study defined PE as activities and courses "pertaining to health, wellness, sports or physical activity," and included courses that teach health behavior strategies, according to the release.
The study didn't examine programs' accessibility or accommodations for people with disabilities, according to the release, although Cardinal previously studied the accessibility of physical activity centers in western Oregon and found that no facility was 100% compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
Cardinal found in previous research that college physical education classes are more likely to engage with students who are already comfortable in gyms and physically active if those courses aren't required, according to the release. He said the decline of physical education could have to do with students' course loads and an assumption that students already learned physical education in K-12 schools.
"The argument that physical education is something they've been taught, that they already know this before college — it's just not happening," Cardinal said in the release. "The culture has shifted to where physical activity continues to be stripped out of daily life."
Physical education requirements at colleges hit an all-time high nearly a century ago, peaking at roughly 97% in the 1920s and 1930s, according to the 2010 Oregon State study.