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Physical health education schools

Thanks to television, tablet computers and entertainment technology at large, today's kids tend to lead more sedentary lives than those of previous generations. Physical health education can help them learn the value of being and staying active throughout their lives, and to make sure that at least some of their choices are healthy ones.

They may not be as popular as some of the other types of education degrees out there, but there are still hundreds of schools across the country offering campus-based and online physical health degrees. Here's a table of data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) that shows the number of traditional institutions and online physical health schools in each region of the country:

Region No. of institutions with physical health degree programs No. of institutions offering online physical health degrees
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 142 7
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 42 3
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 113 5
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 140 7
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 234 29
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 138 9
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 100 7
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 43 1
Total (all 50 states) 952 68

Entry-level physical and health education degrees

Even former athletes, coaches and other experienced health and sport professionals may need some formal education before signing up to lead organized PE or health classes. Here are some brief descriptions of what you can expect from campus-based and online physical and health education degrees for undergraduates:

  • Associate degrees - Associate degree programs typically take about four semesters to complete and deliver their physical health education courses alongside a balanced general education core. Subjects in physical and health education at the associate level include human anatomy, introductory sports science, exercise physiology, sports officiating, safety and first aid, early childhood games and activities, outdoor education and sport psychology.
  • Bachelor's degrees - Four-year university programs at traditional and online physical health schools tend to cover a broader range of subjects than do associate degree programs. Additional courses tend to cover topics in educational theory and pedagogy, such as child and adolescent development, classroom behavior management and educational technology integration, as well as health and exercise concepts like motor skill analysis, drug use and abuse, human sexuality and the fundamentals of movement.
  • Non-degree study - Undergraduate certificates specifically designed for physical education teachers are somewhat rare, although it's possible to find non-degree study in some of the individual facets of a well-rounded physical health degree. Certificates in fitness and nutrition, sports psychology, health education and more can help you better understand the field and prepare you for a full-fledged degree program.

They may not be as common as traditional programs, but online physical health schools and degrees can be solid options for students who can't commit to a full-time, campus-based university education. Online schools tend to allow for more flexibility in terms of scheduling, and some distance education programs also charge less per credit hour than their campus-based counterparts.

Advanced-degree physical and health education programs

Most physical and health educators, particularly those planning to work in public school, will need at least some post-baccalaureate education before they can qualify as teachers. Here's some info on advanced campus-based and online physical and health education degrees at schools around the country:

  • Master's degree programs - The study of physical and health education at the master's level moves into more sophisticated territory, including course content on curriculum design, sports medicine, history and philosophy of physical education, sociological issues in sport, advanced physical conditioning and athletic program leadership and administration. Physical health teachers at colleges and universities are likely to need this additional academic depth in their background, and aspiring policymakers or administrators with a master's degree might enjoy a competitive edge in the hiring process.
  • Doctorate programs - Physical health education degrees at the doctoral level may come in one of two different forms: a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree for aspiring scholars or academics and a Doctor of Education (EdD) degree for those seeking top-tier administrative and leadership positions in physical and health education organizations. Most doctoral degrees include extensive study of advanced physical education content and research methods and culminate in the defense of a substantial dissertation project. Program lengths of 60 and 90 credit hours are common, but the exact credit requirement tends to vary from program to program.
  • Graduate certificates - If you've already got a bachelor's degree in a subject related to physical health education — kinesiology, exercise science, athletic training, nutrition and dance are a few examples — or if your undergraduate physical health degree didn't contain a certification track, you'll likely need to complete a non-degree teacher certification program in the state where you plan to teach. These programs can vary quite a bit in length, depending on how many PE and health courses you took in your undergraduate work, and may in some cases require an internship or student teaching period.

Online physical and health education degrees can be found at the graduate and post-graduate levels as well. Although the variety of programs available is likely to be smaller in the virtual classroom than in a traditional campus setting, prospective students already working in the field might find it easier to advance their education in a program that puts less specific demands on their time.

Q&A with experts

Dr. Jackie Lund, dean of the Department of Kinesiology at Georgia State University and president of Society for Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE)

Dr. Jackie Lund, dean of the Department of Kinesiology at Georgia State University and president of Society for Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE)Why would you encourage someone to pursue a degree in physical education?

There is nothing like seeing a child light up when he/she succeeds in learning a new skill or accomplishing a new task. Most of us who teach physical education are former athletes or dancers. I love sharing something I love with children and getting them to experience the same joy of movement.

Do most physical and health careers require a bachelor's degree or are there certain positions available to candidates with just an associate degree or undergraduate certificate?

A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required for certification. Those with less education than that might seek employment as a paraprofessional.

What advice would you have for a student who is just beginning to consider physical education as a career path?

Go to lots of workshops/inservices and conferences to learn new and better ways to teach. Don't be afraid to learn a new sport - it helps you empathize with students who are learning something new for the first time.

Dr. Dennis Docheff, interim chair of the Department of Nutrition and Kinesiology at the University of Central Missouri

Dr. Dennis Docheff, interim chair of the Department of Nutrition and Kinesiology at the University of Central MissouriWhat's something about the job market in physical and health education that you wish you knew when you were pursuing your own degree?

One thing that I wish I would have been aware of sooner was the positive impact professional organizations can have on one's career. When I graduated, I didn't know what AAHPERD was. I also was unaware that there were state organizations for professionals.

What advice would you have for a student who is just beginning to consider physical education as a career path?

Do not get caught up on salaries and status; be in the game for the right reason. The most important people in my life, growing up, were my teachers and coaches. I would encourage those thinking about a career in PE or health to be critical of their own teachers and coaches (both good and bad) and to carry the positive influence with them into their careers (and leave the negative behind).

Types of physical and health education careers

Professionals with campus-based or online physical health degrees may be able to do more than just teach elementary, middle or high school with the skills they've learned. Here's a table of salary and employment data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to give you an idea of some of the careers that graduates of physical health schools may qualify:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2015)
Projected job growth
(2014-2024)
Total U.S. employment
(2014)
Entry-level education
High school teacher $60,440 6 percent 961,600 Bachelor's degree
Middle school teacher $58,760 6 percent 627,500 Bachelor's degree
Postsecondary teacher $77,480 13 percent 1,313,000 Master's degree
Coach $40,050 6 percent 250,600 Bachelor's degree
Instructional coordinator $64,870 7 percent 151,100 Master's degree
Fitness trainer $40,970 8 percent 279,100 High school diploma or equivalent

Common misconceptions about physical education degrees and careers

There are at least a few mistaken notions in the public understanding of most degree programs, and PE and health degrees are no exception. If you're looking into campus-based or online physical health education degrees, try and avoid any of the following assumptions:

Misconception: The job of a PE or health teacher isn't difficult enough to require formal education in the subject.

  • Fact: You may be surprised to hear that there's more to a health or physical education teacher's job than blowing tin whistles and standing by while students do half-hearted calisthenics. Curriculum design, athletic safety, inter- and intramural activities administration and other behind-the-scenes duties of physical and health educators and administrators can be more complex than is obvious to the uninitiated, and a firm foundation of training and theory in the field can prepare graduates to skillfully handle those and other responsibilities.

Misconception: Nobody wants to hire teachers who were trained or certified online.

  • Fact: This one seems to be common among people who have limited or no experience with online education, but that portion of the population is shrinking by the year. Today's employers have had a couple of decades to get familiar with online graduates in the workforce, and a 2014 article in U.S. News and World Report stated that three out of four employers see no real difference at all between online and campus-based degrees earned at the same school.

Misconception: Teachers don't get paid enough to make a physical or health education degree worthwhile.

  • Fact: It's probably fair to say that elementary and secondary school teachers of all kinds are somewhat underpaid, given their importance to civilized society at large, but that doesn't mean they don't make a decent living. Elementary, middle and high school teachers earned an average annual salary of nearly $59,000 in 2015, according to BLS data, and the top 10 percent of earners across all three grade level groups pulled in almost $88,000 the same year.

How can I enroll in an online physical education degree program?

Individual physical and health education programs determine their own admissions standards and enrollment procedures, so reaching out to individual schools is the best thing to do if you're considering a teaching career of your own. Browse our listings below to get you started and get in touch with a registrar or admissions representative to find out the steps to take next.

Sources:

  1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, accessed May 19, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  2. School pages, accessed May 27, 2016: Associate in Science in Physical Education, Essex County College, http://www.essex.edu/onlinecatalog/physical-education-a-s-degree-program/; Physical Education and Exercise Science Associate Degree, Monroe Community College, http://www.monroecc.edu/academics/majors-programs/health-sciences/physical-education-and-exercise-science-associate-degree/?a-zindex; Health/Physical Education Degree, Allegany College of Maryland, http://www.allegany.edu/x252.xml; Roadmap - Physical Education, Bachelor of Science, Kent State University, http://provostdata.kent.edu/roadmapweb/2015/EHBSPEPHPE.pdf; Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education, Ashford University, http://www.ashford.edu/degrees/campus/ba-physical-education.htm; Major in Physical Education, Towson University, http://catalog.towson.edu/undergraduate/health-professions/kinesiology/physical-education/#requirementstext; Fitness and Nutrition Certificate Program, Penn Foster Career School, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/fitness-and-nutrition/fitness-and-nutrition-certificate; Sports Psychology Certificate, California Southern University, http://www.calsouthern.edu/psychology-certificate/sports-psychology-certificate; Health Education Promotion Certificate, Benedictine University, http://online.ben.edu/online-graduate-certificates/health-education-and-promotion; Certificate Programs, Undergraduate, California State University, Los Angeles, http://www.calstatela.edu/hhs/ac/certificate-programs-undergraduate; Master of Science in Physical Education (Also Online), Azusa Pacific University, http://catalog.apu.edu/graduateprofessional/behavioral-applied-sciences/exercise-sports-science/ms-physical-education-also-online/; Online Masters Program, Physical Education, University of South Florida, http://www.coedu.usf.edu/main/departments/physed/programs/progGOnl.html; Doctor of Health Education, A.T. Still University, https://www.atsu.edu/doctor-of-health-education-degree; Doctoral Degree, University of West Florida, http://catalog.uwf.edu/graduate/doctoral/; Department of Physical Education, University of South Carolina, http://www.ed.sc.edu/pe/graduateprograms/phd.asp; Curriculum, Doctor of Education (EdD), University of Pittsburgh, http://www.education.pitt.edu/AcademicDepartments/HealthPhysicalActivity/Programs/HealthPhysicalActivityChronicDisease/DoctorofEducationEdD/Curriculum.aspx; Ph.D. in Physical Education and Physical Activity Leadership, Wayne State University, http://coe.wayne.edu/kinesiology/pedagogy/doctorate-index.php; Teacher Certification Tracks, Texas Woman's University, http://twu.edu/kinesiology/kinesiology-teacher-certification.asp; Certification in Health and Physical Education (K-12), Eastern University, http://www.eastern.edu/3/academics/programs/loeb-school-education-0/certification-health-and-physical-education-k-12-0;
  3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed May 21, 2016: High School Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm; Middle School Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm; Coaches and Scouts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Entertainment-and-Sports/Coaches-and-scouts.htm; Postsecondary Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm; Instructional Coordinators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm; Fitness Trainers and Instructors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm;
  4. Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed May 21, 2016: May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm; Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252021.htm; Middle School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252022.htm; Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252031.htm;
  5. How Employers View Your Online Bachelor's Degree, U.S. News and World Report, Devon Haynie, March 4, 2014, accessed May 27, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2014/02/28/what-employers-really-think-about-your-online-bachelors-degree
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