Kuntzman: Colleges should make a health course a general education requirement

Caroline Kuntzman, Staff Columnist

In the U.S., most colleges and universities have general education requirements. For example, Case Western Reserve University’s College of Arts and Sciences requires that students earning a Bachelor of Arts degree take six to eight humanities credits, six to eight math and/or science credits, six credits of social sciences, three to four credits of quantitative reasoning and three to four credits of a course focusing on global and cultural diversity. All of this comes in addition to the university requirements for all undergraduates, such as physical education courses and the SAGES program. 

The University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) has some similarities with CWRU’s College of Arts and Sciences. Both require writing courses, credits in areas outside of the student’s major and quantitative reasoning, but LSA has a foreign language requirement and a “race and ethnicity” requirement. So there is some variation between degree requirements in comparable colleges. 

All college students should learn about health during their time as undergraduates. Some colleges, including CWRU, do offer “wellness” courses that can be counted as a physical education credit. CWRU’s Department of Nutrition also offers many courses that could help students learn more about their health; however not all undergraduate students are required to take such a course. Physical education courses are certainly valuable for helping students learn enjoyable ways to exercise, but they shouldn’t be seen as interchangeable with courses focusing on covering holistic wellness. Many college students are living away from home for the first time, giving them the right but also the responsibility to make decisions for themselves about their health. Ensuring that students have the information they need to make good decisions could improve their quality of life. 

Diet is a key part of health that students could benefit from learning about. The average college student’s weight increases by at least 5% during their first year. Part of this may be an issue with how college dining facilities are run; however, ensuring that students learn about portion sizes could mitigate the negative effects of a college diet. Furthermore, diet is about more than calories and weight. Educating students about the different food groups and nutritional needs could help them plan their meals effectively to meet their dietary needs. For students who aren’t using college meal plans, it’s especially important they know what kinds of food to buy. 

Sexual health is also critical to the well-being of college students, but many likely received an inadequate education in high school. Only 30 states require that students receive sex education. Among these, only 22 require that the information students receive is “medically, factually, or technically accurate,” leaving 38 states open to teach whatever they’d like as part of sexual health, if they decide to even teach it at all. Given that the vast majority of college students are sexually active, ensuring that they’re familiar with safe sex practices could help reduce rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unplanned pregnancies on campuses. Moreover, having conversations about consent could help students prevent and respond to cases of sexual assault.

In the U.S., approximately 20 million new STD cases occur each year, and young people are overrepresented in these statistics. As such, it’s especially important that institutions educate their predominantly young adult populations on how to have safe sex. 

Mental health management is also an area where colleges could expand educational opportunities. While mental health services are a common feature on college campuses, teaching students to be proactive about their mental health instead of just telling them to go see mental health services in a time of need could help reduce the number of students who experience crises. Developing students’ skills for communicating with friends who are struggling and teaching them practices that can help reduce stress levels—such as developing effective time management skills—could help prevent mental health issues. 

College is an important and formative period of many people’s lives. Ensuring that students learn to care for themselves during that period is just as critical as covering a core academic curriculum. To improve students’ quality of life before and after they leave campus, CWRU, and colleges everywhere, should integrate courses covering health and holistic wellness within their general education requirements.