Date of Award

August 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Susan Dean-Baar

Committee Members

Sally Lundeen, Larry G. Martin, Karen Morin, JoAnn Appleyard


Attrition, Nursing Education, Nursing Students, Reading Comprehension







Debra L. Lajoie, MSN

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

December, 2013

Under the Supervision of Susan Dean-Baar, PhD, RN, FAAN

The goals of nursing faculty and administrators are to select students most capable of completing the nursing program and to provide academic support needed for program completion. However, despite stronger entrance requirements, educators are still baffled by the persistent attrition from nursing education programs. The purpose of this study was to describe and compare the level of reading comprehension of two groups of students, a pre-nursing student group and a senior nursing student group, to begin to understanding the level of reading comprehension found in the nursing student population. This could contribute to future research to determine whether reading ability might be an unexplored variable contributing to the persistent attrition of nursing students from baccalaureate programs at a time when resources in these programs are limited, and the demand for a competent and diverse workforce continues to increase. This study used a descriptive, quantitative, non-experimental design.

Reading comprehension was measured using the Nelson-Denny Reading Test (NDRT). The findings of this study showed that both the pre-nursing and senior nursing students' levels of reading comprehension are low. The mean grade equivalent score for the pre-nursing student sample was 10.09, and 14.75 for the senior nursing student sample. Pre-nursing and senior nursing students scored below the standardization norms for comparable college students, and senior nursing students also scored below the standardization values for other health profession students at a comparable level of education. Senior nursing students scored at a higher level than pre-nursing students, however, it is not known if this reflects growth in reading ability with exposure to higher levels of post-secondary education or student attrition.

Student perceptions of their college reading expectations or experiences were assessed using a five-point Likert scale. Pre-nursing students were extremely optimistic in their abilities to successfully complete their reading assignments, while the seniors were much more realistic and described challenges completing assigned readings.

Selected demographics variables were compared with reading scores using simultaneous multiple regression. Three demographic predictors collectively accounted for 51.9% of the variance: (1) group (pre-nursing or senior student), (2) self-reported hours spent working per week, and (3) number of hours spent reading per week. The number of self-reported hours spent working per week was not a significant predictor of the student's total reading score. Limitations of the study included the use of a nonrandomized sample which limits the ability to generalize the findings beyond the sample population, homogeneity of the sample, the use of self-reported measures, and time limitations, which included the age of the normative sample and test administration time limits. This study supports the need for further research in the areas of reading comprehension and student academic outcomes. This will contribute to the emerging body of research describing academic literacy, discipline-specific literacy, and the literacy needs of English language learners.