The Capacity of a Southern University to Promote and Support Health Literacy Among College Students: A Case Study Approach

Publication Year:
2012
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Downloads 356
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Repository URL:
https://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/dissertations/615
Author(s):
EPPERSON, Alison Burton
Tags:
Health Literacy; Health-risk Behaviors; Student Affairs
thesis / dissertation description
The primary purpose of this case study was to determine if the university under study had adequate health-related programs, services, and supports in place to develop health-literate young adults. A secondary purpose was to identify strengths and gaps in these university health-related programs, services, and supports, which, if addressed, could increase the likelihood that college graduates would be health-literate. This research study served to answer three broad research questions: 1) What are the health-related needs and concerns among selected university undergraduates? 2) What is the level of awareness and utilization of health-related programs, services, and supports by university undergraduate students? 3) What are the strengths and gaps among health-related programs, services, and supports? As more and more young adults come to colleges and universities seeking an education, they bring with them high-risk health behaviors that can impede their academic success. Post-secondary institutions have programs, services, and supports in place specifically designed to ease the transition into college, provide academic assistance services, promote a safe learning and living environment as well as facilities and departments dedicated to raising awareness of and maintaining physical and mental health. The effectiveness with which these health-related programs, services, and supports are meeting their goals and reaching their target audience can be assessed by collecting student feedback regarding their attitudes, perceptions and usage. The first part of the study involved personal interviews with preselected representatives of Student Affairs, the President of the university, the Provost, Captain of Public Safety, and the Senior Athletic Director. Interview questions were designed to determine how, if any, of the programs, services, or supports under study supported the six dimensions of health and wellness, or the IOM skill set for health literacy. After all interviews were conducted, transcripts were reviewed and coding was conducted to determine the connection between the selected programs, services, and supports, and the IOM health literacy skill set and the six dimensions of health and wellness. Additionally, transcript review allowed for the identification of strengths and weakness among each of the programs, services, and supports. The second part of the study engaged students who volunteered to participate in focus groups in an open discussion about what they perceived health to be (as a concept) and to determine what, if any, personal health-related issues or concerns they felt at the present time, how health-related issues or concerns created barriers to their academic success, and their level of awareness about the programs, services, and supports available. In addition to conducting personal interviews and focus groups, I analyzed documents and material (i.e. web-pages, brochures, student handbook, under graduate bulletin) related to each department under study. This document analysis was also coded for connections to the six dimensions of health and wellness or the IOM's health literacy skill set. Web-pages were further analyzed for strengths and gaps related to each program, service, or support. An embedded analysis was conducted and themes were interpreted. Discussion and recommendations were stated at the conclusion of the case study; increasing health-literacy among college students and raising awareness of and attempting to reduce high-risk, health-related behaviors are consistent with goals and characteristics of a graduate from the university under study. Not surprisingly, when asked, most students only identified the physical aspect of "health" and sometimes, as a mental aspect with regards to stress. Feedback from focus group discussions indicated that students could make a connection between all six dimensions of health and how they might impede academic performance. Unfortunately, however, they did not seem to possess the skills or the knowledge on to how correct negative health behaviors themselves, or how to seek out various health-related programs, services, and supports that are available. By in large, students seemed very interested in learning more about many of these programs, services, and supports and indicated that they wished they had been made aware of such opportunities at the beginning of their college careers. Students also communicated lack of knowledge and awareness about the available health-related programs, services, and supports. Focus group discussions indicated that students felt as though the campus under study had not really taken the time to discover which methods of communication were successful; further indicating that current delivery methods were outdated and ineffective.