Current Status of Basic Instruction Programs in Physical Education at American Colleges and Universities

Article excerpt

Physical education programs in American colleges and universities have a long and storied history. From the inception of such programs over 100 years ago, physical education courses for college students have been an enduring part of higher education. In the past century, we have seen the emergence of physical education, and more recently kinesiology and exercise science, as major fields of study. Yet the constant element in physical education programs throughout their history has been those courses offered for the general college student. These courses generally focus on the physical development and health needs of students, and they compose what have been called "activities programs," "general education programs," or "basic instruction programs," among others. Although the name of such a program may vary from one institution to another, for the purposes of this article, the term "basic instruction program" (BIP) will be used.

Arguably, the BIP is generally recognized by students and faculty as the most prominent part of the physical education program on most college campuses. The nature and status of BIPs in physical education have evolved considerably throughout the years, and these programs continue to. be of prime importance to many physical educators, particularly those in higher education. This interest in BIPs has led to at least 11 national studies of such programs since the 1950s (Fornia, 1959; Greene, 1955; Hunsicker, 1954; Miller, Dowell, & Pender, 1989; Oxendine, 1961, 1969, 1972; Oxendine & Roberts, 1978; Trimble & Hensley, 1984, 1990, 1993) as well as numerous papers on various aspects of the subject. As part of a JOPERD feature focusing on BIPs in physical education, Lumpkin and Jenkins (1993) provided a brief history of, and traced the significant trends in, these programs, and Evaul and Hilsendager (1993) discussed the major issues facing BIPs.

Although the Surgeon General's report on physical activity and health (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996) has been viewed as a landmark document in promoting physical activity, health and physical education programs at all levels of education continue to struggle for their existence. As faculty and administrators strive to preserve and improve BIPs in physical education, information about contemporary practices and emerging trends is widely sought. In an effort to provide this needed information and to continue the periodic monitoring of physical education programs in higher education, this article will report the results of a 1998 survey that sought to determine the status and practices of BIPs in physical education at four-year colleges and universities in the United States.


This study was conducted under the auspices of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). In order to facilitate meaningful comparisons with the results of comparable studies conducted during the past 20 to 30 years, a similar research methodology was used. The target population consisted of all four-year colleges and universities in the United States that had a student enrollment of at least 500 and that appeared in the 1997 College Blue Book, excluding professional schools, seminaries, conservatories, or similarly specialized institutions. This resulted in a sampling frame of 1,100 institutions, of which 600 were randomly selected to participate in the study. It should be noted that although previous studies conducted by Oxendine (1969, 1972), Oxendine and Roberts (1978), and Trimble and Hensley (1984, 1990, 1993) surveyed the entire population of four-year institutions, simple random sampling was used in this study due to limited financial resources.

A six-page questionnaire was sent to the chairperson of the physical education department at each of the selected institutions in the spring of 1998. It contained 60 questions soliciting information on a variety of topics, including program availability, program goals, enrollment figures, requirements, course offerings, credit hours, teaching personnel, grading practices, and financial support. …