Transforming Lives: A Health Equity Approach to Student Success via Physical Literacy Education

Rio Hondo College, CCCPEKD President
Bakersfield College, CCCPEKD Vice President
Santa Barbara City College, CCCPEKD Executive Board Member
CCCPEKD Executive Board Member

Note: The following article is not an official statement of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The article is intended to engender discussion and consideration by local colleges but should not be seen as the endorsement of any position or practice by the ASCCC.

The Cal-GETC transfer pattern mandated by Assembly Bill 928 (Berman, 2021) will take effect in less than eighteen months. The bill had many proposed benefits designed to help streamline the transfer process for community college students. While the passage of this legislation was promising, it also may produce unintended consequences that are a result of the Cal-GETC pattern. One of these results is the elimination of the California State University (CSU) General Education Breadth Area E Lifelong Learning and Self Development as a requirement for community college students wishing to transfer.  

The CSU system continues to value lifelong learning and self-development as a graduation requirement, but with the Cal-GETC pattern required for transfer starting in Fall 2025, lifelong learning and self-development are no longer a requirement for transfer to the CSU. This change creates a hole in the required academic curriculum for community college students and becomes yet another systemic barrier for a population that has fewer resources to learn and practice healthy lifestyle disease prevention, which only serves to widen health inequities in California.  

Given these developments, and the significant negative health effects that flow from them, California community colleges must commit to health, physical education, and kinesiology as part of their local degree requirements. This commitment would preserve student access to these needed resources and would be a clear demonstration that the institutions value the health and well-being of their students.

Health Disparities and Systemic Barriers

In fall 2023, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) overwhelmingly passed Resolution 17.04, titled "Addressing the Health and Well-being Crisis Among California's Community College Students. [1]  Recognizing the ongoing crisis in the well-being of community college students and the resulting health inequities stemming from the deletion of lifelong learning and self-development as a transfer requirement, the ASCCC underscored the imperative to address these pressing issues. The physical health and mental well-being of California’s young adults have declined to alarming levels, leading to severe and enduring consequences for the state’s overall health status and financial stability.

Unfortunately, public education systems in California, including elementary, secondary, and the CSU, have either neglected or completely abandoned the teaching of physical literacy through health, kinesiology, and physical education curriculum. The community colleges, as the primary providers for adult learners, must assume a leadership role in mandating physical literacy as an integral component of local degree requirements. The long-term health of California’s citizens and, consequently, the financial stability of the state hinge significantly on the actions taken by California’s community colleges.

The exclusion of lifelong learning courses from the transfer requirements to the CSU system reflects a troubling parallel with the observed trend in the University of California system. The CSU system, along with the community colleges, serves as a primary force in higher education in California, especially for students of color. Community colleges must devise a comprehensive strategy to mitigate health disparities that currently pose significant barriers to student success and diminish the long-term quality of life.

Improving the understanding, motivation, and skills to be physically active—i.e., physical literacy—among community college students is a moral imperative. These benefits last a lifetime. The vast majority of community college and CSU graduates remain in California post-graduation, applying their skills and knowledge as part of the state’s workforce. A healthy workforce is a productive workforce.  

Mental Health Focus and Physical Activity

California community colleges must prioritize mental health and well-being. Acknowledging the integral role of mental health in student success, colleges must incorporate a mental health focus into educational programs. Physical activity stands out as a potent strategy in this regard, with numerous studies highlighting its positive impact on mental health. Incorporating physical activity into the curriculum not only contributes to overall well-being but also serves as a powerful tool for stress reduction and enhanced cognitive function. By prioritizing mental health and integrating physical activity into educational practices, community colleges can actively contribute to reducing health disparities, breaking down barriers to student success, and improving the long-term quality of life for their diverse student populations.

Leadership in Education and Equitable Access

Community colleges must begin now to prioritize the education of California’s citizens in health, wellness, physical literacy, and equitable access, especially in local degrees. Since many of the students pursuing these degrees do not transfer to a four-year university, they will not receive the needed benefits of lifelong learning if this instruction is not offered at the community college level. The ASCCC supported this concept by passing Resolution 17.04 in fall 2023, which encouraged local academic senates to “initiate, reinstate, or maintain kinesiology, physical education and health education courses in local general education requirements for associate degrees to ensure that California community college students have the benefit of education in critical areas that affect their academic success, health, and well-being.”

Research demonstrates that sedentary students are more physically active when health education or physical activity courses are required. When these courses are electives, they tend to draw students already motivated to be physically active. Additionally, studies show that students who are not physically active in college tend to remain inactive after graduation, negatively impacting their overall health and longevity. Mandating physical literacy as a local graduation requirement is crucial for student success and nurturing well-rounded individuals who are equipped to thrive in all aspects of life. By emphasizing the immense benefits physical literacy offers, colleges can foster holistic development, promote health and wellness, enhance social integration, boost academic achievement, and build stronger communities.

California’s community colleges must take the lead in providing an equitable pathway to physical literacy among their students. Health, physical education, and kinesiology education must be a mandatory part of local degree requirements. The benefits of these requirements will extend not only to the students themselves but to the state as these students enter the workforce. If the state hopes to achieve improvements in societal health, change must begin at the individual level.

California Community College Physical Education, Kinesiology, and Dance (CCCPEKD) is an organization whose purpose is to maintain the highest standards possible for California community college physical education, kinesiology, and dance programs. With a membership of individuals active in or supportive of the disciplines of physical education, kinesiology, and dance, CCCPEKD promotes physical literacy and encourages student centered activities which will benefit the disciplines and provide equitable lifelong learning and self-development for students at the community college level throughout the State of California.

1. ASCCC Adopted Resolutions