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As recently as a 1977 survey, 42 percent of institutions had some sort of swimming requirement, according to Larry Hensley, a University of Northern Iowa professor who has studied the history of physical education. But by 1982 that figure had plummeted to 8 percent. Subsequent surveys no longer bothered to ask about swimming requirements.
In 2003, Ferrum College in Virginia dropped its swim test. Colgate threw in the towel last year. The holdouts now include Notre Dame, MIT, Cornell, Columbia, Hamilton, Dartmouth, Swarthmore, and Washington & Lee, plus the service academies.
The requirement is fertile ground for campus legends, some true, most not. Before Notre Dame began admitting women in the early 1970s, students did indeed take the test in the buff. But there's apparently no solid evidence behind any of the oddly similar stories that circulate on many campuses about how the test started: A wealthy donor whose son drowns gives money for the pool on the condition that the college require a swim test.
In fact, many swimming requirements date to the early 20th century, when there was a national effort to improve water safety, or more specifically to World War I and World War II, when college campuses became military training grounds and the country underwent bouts of anxiety over its physical fitness. SOURCE