Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)


School of Public Health

Content Description

1 online resource (viii, 96 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Jennifer Manganello

Committee Members

Kimberly Colvin, Mary Gallant


College students, COVID-19 prevention, COVID-19 vaccine, Digital health literacy, Health information seeking, Health literacy, COVID-19 (Disease), Computer literacy

Subject Categories

Public Health | Public Health Education and Promotion | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Early in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic became a global public health concern. College students became dependent on the online environment for learning, but also for receiving COVID-19 information. Understanding digital health literacy (DHL) in this unique population and subsequent prevention behaviors in a digitally connected population during a public health crisis is crucial to prepare for future pandemics. This study explored DHL in college students, their main sources of pandemic information and other information seeking behaviors, adherence to public health guidelines, and intentions to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. During the summer of 2020, 245 New York state college students completed an online survey. DHL was found to be adequate in the sample of college students. A majority of the participants were seeking COVID-19 information for themselves and others and were generally satisfied with the information they found. DHL was found to predict using a reliable source of information and adherence to public health guidelines, but not vaccination intentions. Race and political affiliation were also found to predict COVID-19 prevention behaviors. Additionally, students who identified as African American were less likely to report plans to get the vaccine. This study also compared recruitment methods (community vs. panel-based) used to obtain two cross sectional samples of college students who took the same online survey. Results showed community recruitment to be lower cost, more time intensive, and to produce a more homogenous sample. The panel-based sample was easier to manage and resulted in a sample that matched the diversity of college students across the United States, but it was more costly. Sample compositions were significantly different for all demographic variables except race and DHL, and findings from the analyses for each sample were different in some ways and similar in others. Of note is that digital health literacy was associated with adherence to COVID-19 public health guidelines and race was associated with intentions to receive a vaccine in both samples. With so much pandemic information being obtained online, understanding how DHL impacts information seeking and the perceptions college students hold about the pandemic and adherence to prevention recommendations, including the COVID-19 vaccine, is important to control the spread on campuses and throughout the surrounding communities throughout this pandemic and during future pandemics.

Available for download on Friday, May 17, 2024