Mature Age Students Access, Entry and Success in Nurse Education: An Action Research Study

By Kenny, Amanda; Kidd, Tracy et al. | Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession, April 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Mature Age Students Access, Entry and Success in Nurse Education: An Action Research Study


Kenny, Amanda, Kidd, Tracy, Nankervis, Katrina, Connell, Sarah, Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession


INTRODUCTION

Internationally, there is evidence of increasing numbers of mature age students entering post secondary education (Fleming & McKee, 2005; Jepsen & Montgomery, 2009). Capitalizing on this trend may be an important workforce strategy for nursing, with mature age students identifi ed as a key group for current and future nursing recruitment (Productivity Commission, 2005). Nursing workforce shortages are well documented in Australia (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007) and the situation will intensify with increasing health care demands, associated with an ageing population (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2008). Additionally, there will be signifi cant changes to the workforce structure as a larger proportion of the population reaches retirement age and fewer young people enter the workforce (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008). Diffi culties recruiting suffi cient nurses to meet future workforce demands may be further exacerbated, with suggestions that nursing may not be an attractive option for contemporary school leavers (Productivity Commission, 2005).

In view of this, focusing on the recruitment of mature age people into nursing may be advantageous; with researchers (Meiklejohn, 2006) highlighting the value of this group's accrued knowledge, skills, fl exibility and adaptability. It has been argued that mature age workers are much more likely than younger workers to remain in their positions for longer, due to higher job satisfaction (Byrne, 2005; Meiklejohn, 2006; Toomey, 2006), and this may be a signifi cant advantage for nursing retention.

MATURE AGE STUDENTS

Within the vocational education and training (VET) and university sectors, mature age students are most commonly defi ned as over 21 years of age and as a group, their pathways to study are many and varied (Egerton, 2001). Research has indicated that mature age students have generally experienced at least one job or career pathway during the time since leaving secondary school and many have dependent children and major fi nancial responsibilities (Byrne, 2005; Connell, 2003; Kantanis, 2002).

The decision to commence post secondary study as a mature age student is a major one, with researchers describing the experience of mature age students as a complex balancing act between academic, economic and domestic responsibilities (Darlaston-Jones et al., 2001; Reay, Ball, & David, 2002). Research has demonstrated that mature age students returning to study face a myriad of extremely stressful, complex changes, including changes in fi nances, family relationships and family function (Gerrard & Roberts, 2006; Kevern & Webb, 2004; Lin, 2005). Studies have documented that mature age students are often unprepared for the time and fi nancial commitments associated with commencing post secondary study and achieving some degree of balance with the competing demands between home, study, and often part-time work, is an extremely diffi cult undertaking (Gerrard & Roberts, 2006; Kenny & Duckett, 2005; Reay et al., 2002). It has been strongly argued that many mature age students struggle to survive fi nancially, with stress leaving students particularly vulnerable to depression (Cuthbertson, Lauder, Steele, Cleary, & Bradshaw, 2004; Gerrard & Roberts, 2006).

Research supports the contention that the pressure on mature age students is often exacerbated by the pressure they place on themselves. Fear of not succeeding is high (Borysenko, 2006; Cantwell, 2004; Gatenby, 2006; Gerrard & Roberts, 2006) and it has been argued that this fear is further exacerbated by the lack of basic study skills that is often evident in this group (Bolam & Dodgson, 2003). There is a strong emphasis within the post secondary sector on information technology (IT) skills and it has been argued that mature age students must quickly become 'IT savvy'. The pressure of managing course material, with less than ideal IT and basic study skills is enormous, and can have a major impact on learning potential, particularly in the beginning stages of study (Borysenko, 2006; Dearnley, Dunn, & Watson, 2006; Meiklejohn, 2006). …

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