Academic journal article College Student Journal

Health Concerns and Needs of Nontraditional Women Students at a Rural Southern University

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Health Concerns and Needs of Nontraditional Women Students at a Rural Southern University

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to determine the major health concerns and services needed by nontraditional women students at a rural southern university. A convenience sample of 55 participants with a mean age of 34 years enrolled in summer school courses completed a needs assessment regarding their health concerns and services. The majority of students reported having no health insurance and no preventative screening tests in the past year. Other health issues deemed important included assertiveness training and self-defense for women. Substance abuse, addiction, disordered eating and depression were considered least important. Services identified by nontraditionai women students as most important may be different than those of their younger counterparts. Although some services are appropriate for all students regardless of age and life experience, other services targeting special needs of this group could enhance their health status and progress toward a degree.


One of the fastest growing student groups in higher education is the "nontraditional" woman student, who typically enters college after the age of 25, or returns to college after a period of absence. A 1988 College Board survey indicated that 45% of the student body was older than 25 years of age and of these older students, nearly two-thirds of them were women (Hirschorn, 1988). According to Brazziel (1989) adults constitute the fastest growing segment of all the population groups in higher education; particularly women students.

Although women who return to school are usually highly motivated to complete degrees, their transition from a work or home environment to academics is not without its problems (Rifenbary, 1995). Many women students return to school as part of a reassessment of their lives, which is often indicative of a larger transition in life.

The problems encountered by nontraditional students may be quite different than traditional-aged students who enter college immediately following graduation from high school. Some of the difficulties reported by women which serve as barriers to the completion of a degree include child care issues, financial concerns, multiple role demands, and a lack of confidence in preparation and the skills needed to successfully meet graduation requirements (Christensen & Kime, 1994; Hanniford & Sagaria, 1994).

One of the ways nontraditional students differ from other groups on campus may be related to the kind of health education services they need. A broad range of health concerns such as preventative health screenings, gynecological care, child care, and counseling services for academic and personal support are often mentioned as important issues for nontraditional students.

No studies were found that directly assessed the health education service needs of nontraditional women students. However, some studies provided indirect support that mature students often experience anxiety upon returning to school associated with guilt because of family responsibilities (Hooper, 1979), concerns about the quality and expense of childcare (Terrell, 1990), or changes in their roles as wife and/or mother.

Because health issues and the stresses associated with personal responsibilities may be reasons nontraditional students drop out of college (Hanniford & Sagaria, 1994), universities need to be sensitive to the services that address the special needs of this group. "Retention of nontraditional students can be accomplished successfully if support services are available" (New York Occupational Education Equity Center, 1994, p. 5).


Participants in the Study

Questionnaires were administered to a sample of 55 nontraditional women students at a rural Southern University who volunteered to participate in the study. All participants were aged 25 or over, who were enrolled in summer school and either just beginning college or reentering after a period of absence. …

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