Volume VI Number 3, November 1999

Department: Higher Education

Carmela Cunningham
UCLA Disabilities and Computing Program


"Students With Disabilities In Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Preparation, Participation, and Outcomes" report by the National Center For Education Statistics


A report by the National Center for Education Statistics released in June says that students with disabilities are less likely to enroll in college overall, less likely to enroll in a four-year college or university, and less likely to do well once they do enroll in a post-secondary institution. The only good news coming out of the report is that individuals with disabilities who do graduate tend to enter fields related to their degrees at the same rate that other new graduates do, and they earn better wages than their non-disabled counterparts.

According to the report conclusions, the primary reason that students with disabilities attend college less often and do less well when they reach postsecondary institutions is that they are underprepared for academic study.

Students with disabilities end up having to take more remedial math and English courses than do non-disabled students during their K-12 years, and they take fewer advanced placement and college preparatory classes. Students with disabilities are also much less likely than their counterparts without disabilities to be even minimally qualified for admission to a four-year college.

Four Main Issues

The "Students With Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Preparation, Participation, and Outcomes," report examined four primary areas.

Profile of Undergraduates--This portion of the report focused on determining what proportion of undergraduates report having disabilities, what the demographic and postsecondary enrollment characteristics of students are, and what types of institutions students with disabilities enroll in. It also looked at which fields undergraduates with disabilities majored in and gathered information on how undergraduates with disabilities pay for their educations.

Access to Postsecondary Education--Another major issue looked at was how likely students with disabilities are to enroll in postsecondary education after high school and how academically well prepared students with disabilities are for college work.

Persistence and Attainment of a Postsecondary Degree--This portion of the report focused on what percentage of undergraduates with disabilities complete a postsecondary degree or credential. It also looked at how students with and without disabilities differ with respect to characteristics that are associated with postsecondary persistence.

Early Labor Force Experiences and Graduate School Enrollment of College Graduates--Finally, this portion of the report looked at whether individuals with disabilities were as likely as those without disabilities to be working after graduation. The report also tracked whether individuals with disabilities were more or less likely to be working in a field related to their degrees and if their starting salaries were relatively the same as individuals who reported no disabilities. This part of the report also logged what percentage of undergraduates with disabilities enrolled in graduate school.

Report Findings

The "Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education," report relies on information provided from four surveys that were conducted during the past decade and a half. Based on that data, the report states that in 1995-96, 6 percent of approximately 21,000 surveyed undergraduates identified themselves as having a disability. Of those six percent, 29 percent said they had learning disabilities, 23 percent reported having orthopedic impairments, 16 percent reported non-correctable vision impairments, 16 percent reported themselves as deaf or hard-of-hearing, and 3 percent reported speech impairments. Twenty-one percent reported having "other health-related" disabilities. (Note: The percentages total more than 100 percent because some students reported having more than one disability.)

The report shows that students with disabilities enroll less frequently in college or university programs. While 72 percent of students without disabilities enrolled in some form of postsecondary education, only 63 percent of students with disabilities enrolled. And, almost half of those who did enroll (45 percent) chose a two-year institution instead of a four-year. Sixty-six percent of college-bound students without a disability chose to enroll in a four-year program.

Students with disabilities were also found to be much less qualified for admission to a four-your college. This was based on an index score of grades, rank in school, GPAs, composite test scores and SAT/ACT scores.

Once the students with disabilities got to college, things didn't improve much. While 64 percent of non-disabled students had received a degree or vocational certificate or were still in school five years later, only 53 percent of students with disabilities had attained their degrees or were still working on them. Among students with disabilities who entered a postsecondary program, 16 percent attained a bachelor's degree, 6 percent attained an associate's degree, and 19 percent earned a vocational certificate. For students with no disability, those figures were 27 percent, 12 percent and 13 percent respectively.

For students with disabilities who persisted and earned their college degrees or certificates, the picture improved dramatically. Sixty-seven percent of individuals with disabilities who received bachelor's degrees in 1992-93 reported full-time employment two years later, while 73 percent of non-disabled 1992-93 graduates were working full time. And, while the average full-time salary for the non-disabled group was $25,219 in 1994, it was $26,988 for the group of individuals with disabilities.

The graduate school picture is even more equitable. Thirteen percent of both groups enrolled in a graduate program. Six percent of individuals with disabilities enrolled in non-graduate programs, while 5 percent of non-disabled individuals enrolled in such a program.

About the Report

The National Center for Education Statistics is a federal program that collects, analyzes and disseminates data related to education in the United States. It operates under a congressional mandate. The report, "Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Preparation, Participation and Outcomes," is based on information culled from four separate surveys conducted over the past decade and a half. All information regarding students with disabilities is based on survey participants self-reporting their disabilities. Although a relatively small proportion of students in these studies identified themselves as having disabilities, a large sample size was used and so comparisons between students with disabilities and those without were possible.

Surveys Used

The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (1995-96) surveyed a sample of all students enrolled in postsecondary institutions to determine how students and their families pay for postsecondary education. This survey includes both institutional and self-reported information. In addition to providing information about financial aid and other cost-related issues, this survey provided information about students' backgrounds and experiences in postsecondary education.

The National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 was a survey of a sample representing all students who were in the 8th grade in 1988. The sample group was surveyed again in 1990, 1992 and 1994. This study provided information on who enrolls in postsecondary education within two years of finishing high school. It also provided information about students' academic experiences and how prepared they were to enter college. This survey excluded students with severe mental disabilities, those who didn't have sufficient English skills to complete the surveys and students with severe physical or emotional problems that would have prohibited them from participating in the survey. These criteria excluded about 5 percent of the potential student sample.

The Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study is a sample of students who enrolled in a postsecondary institution for the first time in the 1989-90 school year. These students were also surveyed in 1992 and 1994. This survey tracks the paths that undergraduates took toward attaining their postsecondary credentials. Because the last survey was taken in 1994, it does not track students who delayed their postsecondary education for a period of time.

The Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study sampled college seniors who completed their bachelor's degrees in 1992-93. They were again surveyed in 1994. This survey provides information about early employment of college graduates, including occupations and starting salaries, and it provides data on graduate school enrollment for those who entered graduate school immediately after finishing their four-year degrees.


Building a College Disability Support Consortium
Rochester, NY: The Advocacy Consortium, 1999

Since the introduction of Section 504 legislation in the early 1970s, and in some cases, even earlier, many larger colleges and universities developed fairly large, comprehensive programs geared toward inclusion of individuals with disabilities on campus. By now, most institutions of higher education have at least one individual who is charged with disability issues on campus, and in smaller institutions, the disability program might consist of as few as one or two staff members. Students, faculty and staff with disabilities have the same needs, whether they're enrolled in a large state-supported institution or the smallest of private liberal arts colleges; how can the smaller college provide maximum support with a small staff -- sometimes, a staff of one?

In many arenas, from library acquisitions to cross-listing academic course offerings, institutions of higher education have created innovative partnerships, or consortia. One such consortium, which dates back to 1989 and whose mission is of particular interest to ITD's readership, is the Consortium for College Students with Disabilities, Rochester, NY. Its institutional membership includes 29 general and specialized small to mid-size colleges, several high schools, and various professional associations in the Rochester area.

This short but very practical and content-rich pamphlet outlines the steps that led to the formation of the Rochester Consortium, beginning with a good working definition of a disability support consortium as "a network that comes together on a regular basis to share ideas, information, and resources to support the successful postsecondary education of students with disabilities."

Disability legislation is increasingly complex, and most university administrations are, or should be, concerned with their legal responsibility under ADA and other laws and regulations. Identifying problem areas, and developing strategies to provide excellent support services with limited financial resources can be a challenge, but a fascinating challenge that can be best addressed by a consortium. To build on the old adage, "if two heads are better than one, how much better must ten, or, in Rochester's case, more than 29 heads be?

Anyone interested in pooling local resources will benefit from the Rochester Consortium's experience as documented in this pamphlet. It provides a practical, down-to-earth model that dedicated educators, administrators, counselors and others might replicate to the advantage of their own institutions. To order your free copy, contact:

Vicki Roth
Assistant Dean
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627

Cunningham, C.(1999). Higher education. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 6(3).