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Lyon College to start exercise science program

Lyon College officials have announced the addition of an exercise science program, addressing the needs of one of the fastest-growing career fields.

The program will have two tracks: one track for students interested in going further into the healthcare profession as physical therapists or occupational therapists and a second track for students interested in fitness and wellness as a career.

Provost Melissa Taverner said that the college’s accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, approved the new program this week, so Lyon can begin building on its existing physical education framework and hire a founding faculty member for the new exercise science track, which will be available in fall 2020.

According to a 2018 report from Inside Higher Ed, exercise science is the fastest growing academic field. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association reports that the $30 billion health and fitness industry has been growing at least 3-4% annually the past 10 years and continues to accelerate, driven by the influence of technology and social media, increasingly health-conscious customers, and a growing interest in preventative healthcare.

The bachelor of science degree can be a major or minor with courses covering human anatomy, exercise physiology, kinesiology, and the application of those sciences to help people improve their health.

“A lot of this curriculum is basic science,” Taverner said, “but it also emphasizes effective communication to help people heal or help them become healthier.”

The exercise science program will allow the College to attract strong students with an interest in the field, she said, while retaining current Lyon students “who in the past have had limited opportunities to pursue these fields.”

“We’ve looked at our data, and we have folks who were recruited to the school and want to do this.”

For the past 10 years, Lyon has successfully recruited about 37 students per year who expressed interest in occupational therapy, physical therapy, or physical education. Unfortunately, nearly half of those students leave within two years, compared with about 30 to 40 percent of students in other areas.

Adding an exercise science major and minor could improve not only overall recruitment but also student retention and graduation rates. The National Research Center for College & University Admissions reports a predicted number of about 11,200 students interested in exercise science-related programs per year, and Lyon has had about 370 exercise science inquiries per year in recent history.

Exercise science programs traditionally attract some of the strongest students.

“That’s a good thing because the rigor of the exercise science program will match the rigor of the rest of the Lyon programs,” Taverner said. “It’s still going to be grounded in the liberal arts, which makes all of our majors more useful.”

According to U.S. News & World Report, professional and graduate schools, such as medical schools, admit liberal arts college graduates because they are taught to think critically, problem-solve, and see a broader picture rather than be too narrowly trained.

“Soft skills, like how to communicate with people, come from the liberal arts,” Taverner said. “The exercise science program will enhance our ability to provide those professional skills for  many more students.”