College Student Wellness: A Comparison between Traditional- and Nontraditional-Age Students

By Hermon, David A.; Davis, Greta A. | Journal of College Counseling, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

College Student Wellness: A Comparison between Traditional- and Nontraditional-Age Students


Hermon, David A., Davis, Greta A., Journal of College Counseling


This study examined differences in wellness reported by traditional- and nontraditional-age students as measured by the Wellness EvaLuation of Lifestyle (J. E Myers, T. J. Sweeney, & J. M. Witmer, 1998). Differences were found between the 2 age groups on 4 self-regulation dimensions: realistic beliefs, sense of control, exercise, and self-care. Implications for counseling practice and suggestions for future research are discussed.

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Developing the whole person is a goal of student development theory and a philosophical underpinning of wellness programs used by many college counselors. Chickering's (1969) psychosocial model is based on the idea that growth occurs as a result of gaining competence across several vectors, including emotions, autonomy, identity, interpersonal relationships, purpose, and integrity. Research affirms that increases in autonomous functioning and self direction have significant benefits for college students (Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Research findings regarding wellness also demonstrate that an individual's self-efficacy regarding the regulation of self and the ability to redirect behaviors that prove unsuccessful positively affect psychological well-being (Hermon & Hazier, 1999; Lightsey, 1996). The traditional student development and wellness theories share holistic developmental beliefs consistent with the movement away from the in loco parentis model toward greater personal responsibility, autonomy, and self-direction; however, these theories may not take into account the current demographics of higher education today.

Today's college campuses are more diverse than those of years past. Predictions from the 2000 National Conference on the Adult Learner in Atlanta, Georgia, suggested that by 2003 nontraditional-age college students would account for 50% of U.S. college enrollment. Due to developmental differences and life demands, nontraditional students face different challenges from those of traditional students, and they encounter unique barriers. College counselors are, and will continue to be, faced with the challenge of providing services and programming to meet the diverse developmental needs of both traditional- and nontraditional-age students.

Differences Between Traditional- and Nontraditional-Age Students

The majority of traditional-age college students are in Erikson's (1968) "identity versus role diffusion" stage, often exploring randomly while attempting to specify and implement their preferences, whereas nontraditional-age students (24 years and older) often seek higher education for personal fulfillment and tend to be reevaluating satisfaction and commitments to work and family (Gianakos, 1996). These developmental differences are supported by Luzzo's (1993) findings that nontraditional-age students enter counseling with a greater understanding of career needs than do traditional-age students, yet their beliefs about implementing their career plans are not fixed. Foltz and Luzzo (1998) found that interventions designed specifically for nontraditional-age students can enhance students' career decision making and self-efficacy, and the authors encouraged college counselors to design interventions salient to the needs of nontraditional-age college students.

Targeted interventions to meet the unique academic needs of nontraditional students are needed. For example, nontraditional students report more procrastination regarding weekly assignments than do traditional students (Prohaska, Morrill, Atiles, & Perez, 2001). Furthermore, time and geographical barriers influence the success of nontraditional students. Novak and Thacker (1991) found that flexible off-campus, evening, and weekend classes increased academic success for middle-aged Canadian women returning to college. Addressing barriers for nontraditional students may help them successfully transition to a college or university. …

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