The Journal of American College Health has published a paper from researchers at iRT on the status of sexual health among community college students.

The paper, “The Understudied Half of Undergraduates,” takes a look at the behaviors, attitudes, and experiences of more than 250 older adolescents attending community colleges from eight different campuses. Despite being considerably more diverse in both race and class than four-year universities, significantly less research has been done on community college populations than on other student groups.

“Community college students are so often forgotten when it comes to health interventions,” says Dr. Tracy Scull, senior author on the article. “University undergraduates at four-year schools are the most studied population, but they can be quite different from other people their own age, such as community college students, who might have different needs.”

Given the lack of health resources, and the limited amount of previous research available, iRT researchers theorized that community college students may be more at-risk for sexually unhealthy behaviors.

And indeed, this survey of hundreds of current students showed just that. Reported rates of rape and attempted rape among this sample of community college students were two to three times as high as average college rates (as reported by the American College Health Association). Experience with physically abusive relationships was also twice as common as typically reported college rates. Among other worrying statistics, many students had never received the HPV vaccine or been tested for an STI.

Given the fact that students who have experienced sexual violence may be more likely to struggle academically and drop out afterwards, more effectively addressing sexual health and behavior could result in benefits across a student’s entire college experience.

While many of the study’s findings sound grim, they also point to the potential impact of providing comprehensive sexual health education programs to this population. Such programs have effectively reduced risky sexual behaviors, helped participants feel more comfortable with conversations about STIs, reduced the negative impact of gender role stereotypes, and empowered bystanders to prevent sexual assault.