Wellness of Undergraduates: Comparisons of Traditional and Nontraditional Students

By Myers, Jane E.; Mobley, A. Keith | Journal of College Counseling, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Wellness of Undergraduates: Comparisons of Traditional and Nontraditional Students


Myers, Jane E., Mobley, A. Keith, Journal of College Counseling


Wellness scores of 1,249 traditional and 318 nontraditional undergraduate college students revealed low levels of wellness in multiple areas in comparison with non-student adults and within-group differences according to demographic variables. Profiles of wellness for traditional- and nontraditional-age students revealed significant differences on 4 subscales. Nontraditional students of color scored lower than traditional Caucasian students on Total Wellness and several component indices. Implications for student development and counseling programs are discussed.

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Almost two decades ago, Hettler (1984) and others (e.g., DeStephano & Harger, 1990) recommended the establishment of campus wellness programs as a means of addressing both the personal and academic needs of students. Evidence from multiple studies support the long-term value of these programs, both as cocurricular and curricular experiences, in such diverse areas as stress management, interpersonal relationship skills, nutrition (Koehler & Burke, 1996), and career development (Vecchione, 2000), all of which can affect academic success (Brazier, 1998). Although various authors have emphasized the need for campus wellness programs and have discussed strategies for developing such programs, it is noteworthy that few studies of student wellness exist. Furthermore, although much has been written about differing needs of traditional-age (24 years and under) and nontraditional-age (25 years and over) undergraduate students (Kim, 2002; Luzzo, 1999; Morris, Brooks, & May, 2003), little has been written about the design of campus wellness programs to accommodate the differing needs of these students.

Archer, Probert, and Gage (1987) studied wellness in 3,190 undergraduate college students using global ratings corresponding to Hettler's (1984) hexagonal model of wellness (i.e., physical, emotional, spiritual, occupational, social, and intellectual wellness). Students rated the physical dimension as most important but wanted more information on emotional aspects of wellness. Showalter (1995) conducted a needs assessment of 1,082 college freshmen relative to knowledge and use of campus wellness programs. He found few differences based on ethnicity but reported that women rated wellness factors as more significant than did men. Stock, Willie, and Kraemer (2001), in a needs assessment study of health promotion, also found gender differences in health behaviors among 288 freshmen, with women reporting more preventive health behaviors, except in the area of unprotected sex.

A literature review of the PsycINFO database revealed only one study of wellness that compared traditional-age with nontraditional-age students. Hybertson, Hulme, Smith, and Holton (1992) found that the two groups perceived different factors as beneficial or detrimental to their personal wellness. Nontraditional-age students most frequently chose the beneficial factor of "balancing my personal needs with the demands from others" and traditional-age students most frequently selected "knowing who I am, having good self-awareness." The most frequently chosen detrimental factor for nontraditional-age students was "feeling overwhelmed or conflicted about fulfilling all my role responsibilities"; for the traditional-age students, it was "worrying." Presumably, these factors may affect retention in the college setting for students of all ages, including ethnic minority as well as Caucasian students (Allen, 1994; Bagayoko & Kelley, 1994; Reyes, 1997; Waiters, 1996; Wilson, Mason, & Ewing, 1997).

Although the studies cited here are helpful in establishing a variety of parameters of wellness among college students, additional research is needed to provide a foundation for holistic campus wellness programs that specifically address the differential needs of traditional- and nontraditional-age students. Research based in holistic models that provide multidimensional wellness assessment can contribute to further understanding the needs of undergraduate students and to strategies for developing campus wellness and health promotion programs. …

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