If you spend any time at all on a college campus you are sure to hear talk of learning and other developmental outcomes that occur outside of the classroom. Is this just idealistic banter or is it possible that some of this learning does take place, and of all places at the George Street Fitness Center (GSFC)? You may be delightfully surprised by the findings of a recent investigation.
Having previously examined College of Charleston students enrolled in our group fitness classes and finding measurable improvements in various components of physical fitness, it was time to direct attention to another side of student wellness, that belonging to the social domain. Intramural sports and other fitness programs offer an important avenue for student interaction. This interaction can translate into strong development of social skills, integration into the university and even a higher retention rate among students that frequently participate in these activities (Belch, Gebel and Maas, 2001).
What prompted this investigation was a disappointing finding that over several semesters a large number of students visited the GSFC just one or two times over the course of a semester. For the first seven weeks of the spring 2021 semester, 1119 different students visited the GSFC. Of this total, 430 students came just once or twice during these first seven weeks.
That statistic begs the larger question about what is lost for those not returning. Does participation in the activities at the university fitness center help shape certain social-emotional outcomes that are considered critical in one’s personal development? Moreover, is there a difference to be found between groups based on their frequency of use of the university fitness center? Sense of belonging, social bonding, self-confidence, and the ability to interact with peers were among the 10 social behaviors compared.
Belch, H.A., Gebel, M., & Maas, G.M. (2001). Relationship between student recreation complex use, academic performance, and persistence of first-time freshmen. NASPA Journal, 38(2), 254–268.
Email surveys totaling 1008 were sent to the population of students, N=1119, who visited the GSFC at least one time from the start of the spring semester through February 28. The returned surveys, n= 110, equated to a 10.9% return rate.
The survey contained 17 questions, with numbers 1-13 using a 5-point Likert scale for scoring: 1= strongly agree, 2= agree, 3= unsure, 4= disagree, and 5= strongly disagree. Questions 1-10 focused on the individuals’ social attributes, questions 11-13 evaluated the respondent’s connection to the university and the GSFC, and the remaining questions asked for personal information.
|Table 1. Survey Questions. n=110.||Mean||SD|
|1. The George Street Fitness Center, or GSFC for short, helped me create a strong emotional tie at the College of Charleston.||2.91||1.09|
|2. The GSFC is essential in creating a social bonding experience.||3.15||1.20|
|3. I feel more responsible toward the College of Charleston as a result of my participation at the GSFC.||2.95||1.19|
|4. My ability to interact with new people improved as a result of my participation at the GSFC.||3.24||1.23|
|5. My overall happiness improved largely due to my participation at the GSFC.||2.06||1.07|
|6. My self-confidence improved as a result of my participation at the GSFC.||2.02||0.99|
|7. My leadership ability improved as a result of my participation at the GSFC.||3.25||1.09|
|8. My trust in peers increased due to my participation at the GSFC.||3.11||1.06|
|9. Participation at the GSFC improved my sense of belonging here at the College of Charleston.||2.71||1.14|
|10. My overall college experience has been enhanced as a result of participation at the GSFC.||2.29||1.10|
|11. The GSFC was a major attraction when choosing universities to attend.||3.59||1.20|
|12. I have considered leaving the College.||3.88||1.31|
|13. One primary reason I have not left the College is the GSFC.||3.89||1.03|
Measure 1: The null hypothesis was there was no difference between the population mean and that of the sample group for each of the 10 social outcomes listed in the survey. A t-test was run for each of the survey questions. The alpha level for determining significance was p<.05. The degrees of freedom= 109. Calculated t-scores above 1.99 permitted the null hypothesis to be rejected.
Of the ten questions related to social behaviors, these four outcomes showed a significant increase attributable to the students’ participation in activities held at the GSFC.
|Question 5||overall happiness.||-9.19|
|Question 9||sense of belonging.||-2.67|
|Question 10||overall college experience.||-6.74|
Measure 2: Is there a difference in these social outcomes between the two user groups based on frequency of use in such a short period? From the population of infrequent users, those visiting 2 or fewer times, N=430, a sample group was formed from those returning a survey, n=42. The frequent users group was set using 10 or more visits for inclusion. The population for frequent users with 10 or more visits, N=310, allowed the formation of a sample group, n=45, from those returning a survey.
“Sense of belonging” was the item that held the most interest to this investigator. Did it differ between the two groups? A statistically significant result was found for “sense of belonging” for the frequent users group (M=2.22 , SD=0.927 ) compared to the infrequent users group (M=3.29 , SD=1.24 ), t(85) = 4.56, p<.05 indicating the frequent users had a stronger “sense of belonging” than did the infrequent users group.
These other social behaviors were compared between groups and showed statistically significant results with the frequent users scoring higher on these items. The alpha was set at p<.05. The degrees of freedom were 85. The critical t-value used to reject was 1.99.
|Question 1||strong emotional tie.||3.60|
|Question 5||overall happiness.||4.66|
|Question 8||trust in peers.||4.00|
|Question 9||sense of belonging.||4.56|
|Question 10||overall college experience.||4.56|
Perhaps the term “Center” has dulled over the years to the point it simply means another facility. The GSFC is in every sense a center of the campus world for numerous students who avail themselves of its opportunity for activity, fun, and fitness, and in return, their personal “center” is enhanced. The data quantify something that for the most part persons were left to comment using broad generalizations. Now it can be said with greater confidence that a number of social development outcomes found within our student base are improved through their active participation at the GSFC. It also leads to a goal to redirect our infrequent users to the GSFC in hopes of helping them gain that sense of belonging.