Lincoln University’s requirement that obese undergraduates lose weight  or take a health and fitness class drew ire last fall, but another college is taking a less aggressive approach to get students to pay attention to their health.
This spring, the University of Indianapolis has begun the “healthy diploma” program, a set of courses that students take, in addition to majors or minors, to develop healthy habits before they take on full-time jobs and (possibly) develop chronic health problems.
Already in the planning stages when Lincoln’s controversial rule made headlines last fall (before it was dropped) , the program is aimed at giving “students the competence, the education and also the confidence to carry out a healthy life style,” said Lisa L. Hicks, an associate professor and chair of the university’s kinesiology department, which provides the program’s offerings.
Elementary and secondary schools “do a lot more on fitness and nutrition than colleges offer for their students,” Hicks said. After looking at what other colleges did to promote health and wellness  among their students -- often a smorgasbord of diet, exercise and course options without any coherence or coordination -- she thought colleges could do more. “We needed to do something at the college-age level to take a stand and try to counteract the unhealthy behaviors that are so common in our society.”
The diploma may also make the university's graduates a bit more attractive on the job market, said Deborah W. Balogh, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Most employers know that one of their biggest expenses is employees’ health care premiums. Knowing that they’re hiring someone who lives a healthy lifestyle and has fewer absences due to illness would definitely be desirable.”
Despite little advertising during the fall semester, 28 students signed up to begin the diploma program this spring.
Though that’s less than 1 percent of the university’s total undergraduate population of 3,000, Balogh said the enrollment for this term “certainly surpassed expectations.”
One student in the program is Laura Gilles, a freshman majoring in nursing, who decided to sign up in part because it would help her “start and maintain healthy behaviors.” The diploma, she said, could be an added bonus on the job market because it would “set me apart as someone concerned about health and more likely to be a reliable and productive employee,” something surely attractive to potential employers of a nursing major.
Undergraduates need to earn a minimum of 124 credit hours to graduate from the university, so the healthy diploma’s 15 credits of health and wellness classes aren’t too much of an imposition for many students, Indianapolis officials say.
Requirements include two credits on overall wellness, two credits on nutrition and one credit on financial wellness. The core of the coursework will be six credits focused on wellness issues such as stress management and human sexuality, as well as three credits' worth of physical activity electives like yoga, social dance and cardio hip hop, some of which are open only to students in the program. Students will earn the final credit working on long-term goals -- like running a marathon or half-marathon or losing 40 pounds – and documenting the experience.
Students will also meet once a semester with a wellness adviser, take annual self-assessments and other tests aimed at keeping tabs on their evolution during their undergraduate years.