Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education and International Services


Higher Education Administration PhD

First Advisor

John V. G. Matthews

Second Advisor

Duane Melvin Covrig

Third Advisor

Shirley Ann Freed


Problem and Purpose

There is an extensive array of literature and research espousing the importance of developing the whole student. Comparatively, there is limited research on examining how colleges and universities that promote wholistic student development incorporate each of the human dimensions into an integrated educational experience. There is, therefore, a need for scholarship that compares and contrasts how separate and distinct higher educational systems having a philosophy of educating the whole person define and implement the development of the physical dimension. Similarly, research is needed that examines how the differences in interpreting and implementing the development of the physical component align with the school's guiding framework. The purpose of this study was to examine and describe how two institutions with a wholistic approach to education from each of two higher educational systems—Work Colleges Consortium members: College of the Ozarks and Warren Wilson College, and Adventist schools: Southern Adventist University and Union College—interpret and implement the development of the whole student, particularly the physical dimension.

Research Design

A qualitative descriptive multiple case study design was chosen to address the three research questions. This study employed multiple interactive (interviews and focus groups) and noninteractive (observations, document review, and field notes) data collection and field observation techniques.


Though the definition and implementation of wholistic education differ among the colleges and university in this study, all four institutions share two common overarching goals. First, they aim to develop students who are well-balanced, productive, responsible citizens. Second, they aspire for students to mature into well-balanced individuals who will regard serving humanity as an important, lifelong component in reaching their optimal personal fulfillment. This aim is an outcome of the schools' shared value of service to others. The results found that physical activities, athletics, and sports are the main practices used by all four schools to develop the physical dimension. Several differences were also noted. First, the ideology driving the rationale for developing the whole student is different among the schools. Providing a wholistic education at College of the Ozarks, Southern Adventist University, and Union College is understood within a Christian perspective. The physical body is the avenue through which God communicates with people. Caring for one's body glorifies God and allows people to serve Him and others more effectively. In contrast, Warren Wilson College understands the world through a humanistic perspective of wholeness and interconnectedness. The physical body is important in the context of sustainability because people must be healthy and physically fit in order to care for the earth and each other. Second, while students at all four campuses are able to obtain physical activity through campus jobs, only the two work colleges require work as an essential educational and graduation requirement. In fact, work is the main practice used to develop the student’s physical dimension at these two schools. Conversely, the absence of work as a component of developing the physical dimension at both Adventist institutions is not in harmony with their educational philosophy.

Discussion, Conclusions, and Recommendations

Cognitive research supports the understanding that wholistic development is in agreement with the brain's natural principles for learning. It is not the practices that these schools use to develop the whole student, particularly the physical dimension, that make them unique. Rather, safeguarding congruency between each institution's curricular and extracurricular programming and its underlying guiding framework allows it to facilitate transformation while remaining authentic to its mission and vision. Each of the four schools considers physical activities, athletics, and sports to be important practices for overall health and well-being, as well as a means to improve learning. Brain research supports the relationship between learning and the physical body. Best practices show that physical activity and sports are the two main approaches used to build healthy bodies, develop strong minds, acquire social competencies, and create better-quality lives. However, the focus is shifting to health-related objectives in combination with physical education instruction. Recommendations are provided for the educational institutions in this study. All four schools are encouraged to ensure that their physical development praxes align with best practices by identifying health-related objectives for each physical activity/fitness course offering. Further, because student work contributes to the development of the intellectual, physical, and social dimensions, these same institutions are encouraged to more prominently promote the benefits of work as a means of facilitating learning and developing the physical dimension. It is also recommended that Adventist colleges and universities restore the role of work as a component of their wholistic educational development model. This is encouraged, not just because it reduces educational expenses, but because work is a key component of a wholistic and balanced educational approach guided by Adventist educational philosophy. Recommendations for further research include: (a) determining which types of exercise most effectively improve student learning and whether the results of previous research using children/young adults would be the same with college-aged students, (b) comparing and contrasting physical activity and physical labor with student learning, (c) studying learning at work colleges as compared with other institutions that do not require work, (d) determining the feasibility of volunteerism serving as another practice for developing the physical dimension, and (e) examining how Adventist higher educational institutions can reestablish work as part of their wholistic educational approach.

Subject Area

Education--Philosophy; Education--Aims and objectives; Seventh-day Adventist universities and colleges; College of the Ozarks; Union College (Lincoln, Neb.); Southern Adventist University; Wilson College