Optimizing college health promotion in the digital age: Comparing perceived well-being, and health behaviors, health education needs and preferences between college students enrolled in fully online versus campus-based programss

Michelle M. Burcin, Walden University
Shelley N. Armstrong Dr., Walden University
Jody O. Early, University of Washington Bothell
Holly Godwin


Background: There is little published about non-traditional and online college students' health and well-being. College health services must evolve to address the needs of this growing population. The purpose of this study was to explore risk factors, perceived well-being, health behaviors, and health education preferences of US college students enrolled in a fully online academic programs compared to a national sample of college students enrolled in campus based programs. Methods: This cross-sectional study included a volunteer sample of 961 college students enrolled in two large, U.S. accredited online universities. Participants completed an online survey that included questions and sub scales from the National College Health Assessment (NCHA, IIb). Responses on survey items from student learning online were compared to an equal sample of college students enrolled in non-online programs, randomly drawn from the NCHA IIb national data set (n = 961). Frequencies on survey items were calculated and mean scores of subset measures for online students were compared against those from the NCHA data set using two tailed z-test scores and independent sample t-tests with alpha at 0.05. Results: Online students reported significantly (P ≤ 0.05) higher percentages of chronic illnesses, psychiatric conditions, mobility disabilities, deafness/hearing loss, speech/language disorders,cigarette use, obesity, sedentary activity, and depression than the NCHA national sample. Implication for Practice: Health professionals and leaders who work in higher education must consider the shifting landscape and demographics in higher education in order to develop more tailored, innovative digital health promotion approaches that effectively reach the growing population of online, commuter, and older learners.