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Avoid the Freshman Fifteen: College Imposes Mandatory Fitness Assessment

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Although small in size, Coker College is making big headlines thanks to one of its programs for incoming freshmen. During their first semester at the private liberal arts college in Hartsville, South Carolina, Coker students’ schedules will include an orientation class that does much more than make their transition from high school to college easier.

In addition to receiving the traditional advice about dealing with homesickness and engaging with new peers, Coker College students will also take a mandatory fitness assessment.

Incoming Coker College freshmen will receive their body mass index (BMI) score, which measures body fat. They will also be required to perform a one-mile run/walk and do timed push-ups and sit-ups as well as other various tests, such as timed curl-ups and trunk lifts, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Helping Students Make Important Changes

Coker College President Robert L. Wyatt, who has lost 100 pounds since he was a college student, feels that the time is right for the school to start helping students make some important changes in their lives. During his 2010 presidential inauguration speech, President Wyatt said, “Looking forward, Coker will greet students of a new century, and we must redefine what it means to prepare this generation.”

The fact that South Carolina recently climbed from number nine to number eight on the Fattest States in America list may have contributed to Coker College’s fitness assessment.

A Healthy College Experience

According to the official Coker College website, Brandon Fain, the school’s recently-promoted Director of Intramurals and Wellness, states that the program will “combat unhealthy trends—which are especially prevalent in Southern states— to create a college experience that helps students become healthy, satisfied and engaged individuals” that are ready for life beyond college, academically as well as physically.

Fain has already proven successful at Coker College. “As a part-time employee last year, Fain transformed the intramurals program into a comprehensive fitness and wellness department,” Coker’s Dean of Students, Jason Umfress, explained. “In fact, under Fain’s leadership as the program’s coordinator, the number of programmed activities increased by 167 percent and student participation in those activities increased by 128 percent over the previous year.” He will now administer the new first-year student physical fitness requirements while working collaboratively with Food Services and the Student Health and Counseling Services to help improve the health and overall well-being of the student body.

Healthy Meal Options and Intramural Sports

Inside Higher Ed explains that Coker College has already broadened its opportunities for healthy living. Students are now guaranteed a healthy plate option at every meal and foods are accompanied by nutrition facts. Intramural sports and wellness programs like Zumba classes have also grown incredibly popular in recent months. Less-competitive than basketball or football, fun activities like inner tubing and yoga are also available to students. These options are all part of Coker’s COBRAFIT program, which was created in part as a response to the nation’s obesity epidemic.

School officials feel that while some students may be offended or embarrassed by Coker’s new mandatory fitness assessment, it’s still a good idea in the long run. “Some people might not have been brought up thinking that weight should be an issue, or that they’re unhealthy,” summarized Margaret McCoy, a recent Coker graduate that studied fitness programming and played NCAA Division II soccer.

Lincoln University: Fitness for Life Controversy

In 2006, a similar wellness program was initiated at Oxford, Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University, the first degree-granting historically black university in the United States. Although the school had good intentions regarding its students’ health and wellness, the program caused controversy because only the students with a BMI of 30 or higher, reflective of obesity, were required to take the “Fitness for Life” course, which met three hours per week. Lincoln University officials argued that the requirement was equivalent to remedial courses that help students with their proficiency in math or other academic subjects.

In 2009, several seniors affected by the 2006 mandate realized that they had to complete the class or risk not graduating. The university stood by their policy for weeks, despite outrage from students as well as activists across the nation, only to rescind the fitness requirement, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Unlike the now-defunct Lincoln University program, Coker College’s wellness program will be required of all incoming students regardless of BMI.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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