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
This action research study involved an 'expert group' that was convened to consider issues for mature age nursing students in the Australian context and develop recommendations that could be used to strengthen mature age entry, access and success in nursing programs. Consistent with action research, the group worked through phases of planning, action, observation, evaluation and critical refl ection. In developing recommendations that could be used for future planning, the group met regularly, reviewed extensive literature, and conducted two data collection activities, a questionnaire and focus group with education providers. From the action research activities, fi ve major recommendations were generated. These focused on the value of mature age students, the need for specifi c information, transparent and clear processes for students entering nurse education, study support and fi nally, the provision of fi nancial assistance.
Keywords: nurse education; mature age; workforce
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. …