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Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 1, Issue 3, Topic: Postsecondary Education
Students With Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Preparation, Participation, and Outcomes
By: Laura Horn and Jennifer Berktold
 
This article was originally published as the Executive Summary of the Statistical Analysis Report of the same name. The sample survey data are from several surveys, which are listed at the end of this article.
 
 

This report provides a comprehensive profile of students with disabilities enrolled in postsecondary education. It is based on an analysis of four different surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, which were used to address the following four issues: (1) How are students with disabilities represented in postsecondary education? (2) Who among high school students with disabilities gains access to postsecondary education? (3) Among those students with disabilities who enroll in postsecondary education, how well do they persist to degree attainment? and (4) Among college graduates, what are the early labor market outcomes and graduate school enrollment rates of students with disabilities? The following is a summary of the key findings for each of the four main issues addressed in the report.

In the 1995-96 academic year, as part of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:96), a nationally representative sample of about 21,000 undergraduates were asked: "Do you have any disabilities, such as hearing, speech, mobility impairment, or vision problems that can't be corrected with glasses?" About 6 percent replied "yes" (figure A). When asked about specific disabilities, among the 6 percent of undergraduates who reported any dis-abilities, 29 percent said they had a learning disability; 23 percent reported having an orthopedic impairment; 16 percent reported a noncorrectable vision impairment; 16 percent were hearing impaired or deaf; and 3 percent reported a speech impairment. One in five (21 percent) reported having some "other health-related" disability. Compared with students without disabilities, students with disabilities were more likely to be men, to be older, and to be white, non-Hispanic.

Compared with their counterparts who reported no disabilities, students with disabilities differed in the types of institutions they attended. They were less likely to be enrolled in public 4-year institutions, about as likely to be enrolled in private, not-for-profit 4-year institutions, and more likely to be enrolled in subbaccalaureate institutions such as public 2-year colleges. There were no apparent differences, however, between undergraduates with and without disabilities with respect to their general fields of study. For example, roughly one-fifth of students with and without disabilities (17 and 20 percent, respectively) were in business-related fields; 18 and 15 percent, respectively, were in humanities; and 11 and 13 percent, respectively, were in health fields.


Figure A—Percentage of 1995-96 undergraduates who reported a disability, and among those with disabilities, the percentage reporting each disability type
Figure A-Percentage of 1995-96 undergraduates who reported a disability, and among those with disabilities, the percentage reporting each disability type

*Any other health-related disability or impairment.

NOTE: Percentages do not sum to 100 because some students reported multiple disabilities.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1995-96 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS: 96), Undergraduate Data Analysis System.


With respect to financing their education, students with and without disabilities did not differ to a great extent in either the likelihood of receiving financial aid or in the average total amount of aid received. However, when examining specific institutional sectors and specific types of financial aid received, differences did emerge, especially among students enrolled in public 4-year colleges. For example, among dependent students (i.e., those who are financially dependent on their parents) in public 4-year colleges, students with disabilities were less likely to receive financial aid (48 versus 59 percent), whether in the form of grants (31 versus 42 percent), loans (29 versus 38 percent), or work study (4 versus 8 percent). Since the award of federal financial aid is based on a student budget made up of the student's financial need and the price of the institution, it is possible that dependent students with disabilities attend- ing public 4-year colleges were enrolled in lower priced institutions than their counterparts without disabilities. Differences may also be due in part to the fact that some students with disabilities receive supplemental income such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

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Based on data from a nationally representative sample of students who were in the eighth grade in 1988, the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88/94), students with disabilities were less likely to enroll in postsecondary education among those who completed high school by 1994 (table A). As of 1994, about 2 years after most finished high school, approximately 63 percent of students with disabilities had enrolled in some form of postsecondary education, compared with about 72 percent of students without disabilities. Among those who enrolled, nearly one-half of students with disabilities (45 percent) enrolled in public 2-year institutions, compared with one-third of students without disabilities. Conversely, students with disabilities were less likely to enroll in the 4-year sector (42 percent) than their counterparts without disabilities (62 percent).

When students were ranked according to how qualified they were for admission to a 4-year college, students with disabilities were much less likely to be even minimally qualified.* Among those who were qualified, students with and without disabilities were just as likely to enroll in some form of postsecondary education. Students with and without disabilities who were very to highly qualified for admission to a 4-year college (had scores in the top 10 to 25 percent of entering 4-year college students) enrolled at similar rates. However, among students who were ranked as "minimally to somewhat" qualified for admission to a 4-year college (had scores in the top 50 to 75 percent of entering 4-year college students), students with disabilities were less likely than their counterparts without disabilities to enroll in the 4-year sector (41 versus 54 percent) and more likely to enroll in public 2-year institutions (35 versus 25 percent).

In other words, despite being at least minimally qualified for admission to a 4-year institution, students with disabilities were less likely to enroll in the 4-year sector. Research has shown that a majority of students who enroll in the 2-year sector with the intention of later transferring to a 4-year institution do not transfer. Therefore, these students may be reducing their chances of earning a bachelor's degree.

Taking a closer look at the students who enrolled in any postsecondary education, there were a number of apparent differences with respect to high school academic preparation and performance between students with and without disabilities. Those with disabilities were more likely to have taken remedial mathematics and English courses in high school, less likely to have taken advanced placement courses, had lower high school GPAs, and had lower average SAT entrance exam scores.

Overall, with respect to gaining access to higher education, the data indicate that students with disabilities fall behind their counterparts without disabilities in their high school academic preparation for college. As a consequence, students with disabilities are less likely to be academically qualified for admission to a 4-year college and, among those who enroll in postsecondary education, students with disabilities may be less prepared to undertake college-level courses.


Table A—Among 1988 eighth-graders who completed high school, the percentage who enrolled in postsecondary education by 1994, and percentage distribution according to type of institution, by disability status and type
Table A-Among 1988 eighth-graders who completed high school, the percentage who enrolled in postsecondary education by 1994, and percentage distribution according to type of institution, by disability status and type

1 Students enrolled in private, for-profit institutions; public less-than-2-year institutions; or private, not-for-profit less-than-4-year institutions.

2 Student had any other disability, including health problems, emotional problems, mental retardation, or other physical disabilities, and had received services for it.

NOTE: Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, Third Follow-up Survey, 1994 (NELS:88/94), Data Analysis System.

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A survey of undergraduates who enrolled in postsecondary education for the first time in 1989-90 and who were last surveyed in 1994, the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:90/94), indicates that students who reported any disabilities were less likely than their counterparts without disabilities to have stayed enrolled or earned a postsecondary degree or credential within 5 years (figure B). As of 1994, 53 percent of students with disabilities had attained a degree or vocational certificate or were still enrolled, compared with 64 percent of their counterparts without disabilities. Among students with disabilities, 16 percent attained a bachelor's degree; 6 percent attained an associate's degree; and 19 percent earned a vocational certificate. The corresponding percentages for students without disabilities were 27 percent, 12 percent, and 13 percent, respectively.

The postsecondary outcomes of students with disabilities, however, may not be directly comparable to those students without disabilities. Compared to their counterparts without disabilities, those with disabilities who first enrolled in postsecondary education in 1989-90 were more likely to have attributes associated with lower rates of persistence and degree attainment. For example, students with disabilities were more likely to have delayed their postsecondary enrollment a year or more after finishing high school (43 versus 32 percent). They were also more likely to have completed high school through earning a GED (i.e., they passed the General Education Development exam) or alternative high school credential (12 versus 6 percent). Corresponding to being older, students with disabilities were also more likely to have dependents other than a spouse (25 versus 13 percent). All of these attributes are associated with lower persistence and degree attainment rates. Thus, in addition to the obstacles they may have experienced related to their disabilities, students with disabilities were also more likely to have other experiences and circumstances that potentially conflicted with their schooling. Despite such impediments, however, more than half of students with disabilities had persisted in postsecondary education: 41 percent had earned a credential and an additional 12 percent were still enrolled in 1994.

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While students with disabilities are less likely to persist in postsecondary education and attain a credential, those who earn a bachelor's degree appear to have relatively similar early labor market outcomes and graduate school enrollment rates as their counterparts without disabilities. Based on data from a cohort of students who earned bachelor's degrees in 1992-93, the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B:93/94) found that as of April 1994, most students, regardless of disability status, reported that they were working (figure C). Students with disabilities however, were more likely to be unemployed (11 versus 4 percent). Among college graduates who were working, the annual full-time salaries of students with and without disabilities did not differ significantly. There was also no difference in the likelihood of college graduates with and without disabilities reporting that their job was related to their degree: 58 percent of students with disabilities and 55 percent of those without disabilities reported that their job was closely related to their bachelor's degree. Finally, similar proportions of college graduates with and without disabilities had enrolled in graduate school within 1 year after earning their bachelor's degrees.

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Figure B—Percentage of 1989-90 beginning postsecondary students according to their persistence status in 1994 and highest degree attained, by disability status
Figure B - Percentage of 1989-90 beginning postsecondary students according to their persistence status in 1994 and highest degree attained, by disability status

Figure B - Percentage of 1989-90 beginning postsecondary students according to their persistence status in 1994 and highest degree attained, by disability status

NOTE: Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, Second Follow-up (BPS: 90/94), Data Analysis System.

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Figure C—Among 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients, percentage distribution according to employment status and graduate school enrollment, by disability status
Figure C-Among 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients, percentage distribution according to employment status and graduate school enrollment, by disability status

Figure C-Among 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients, percentage distribution according to employment status and graduate school enrollment, by disability status

NOTE: Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study, First Follow-up (B&B: 93/94), Data Analysis System.

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Footnote

* This was based on an index score of grades, rank in school, GPA, NELS composite test scores, and SAT/ACT scores of the top 75 percent of students actually admitted to a 4-year institution. To be minimally qualified, students had to be ranked at or above the 54th percentile in their class, have a GPA of 2.7 or higher in academic courses, have a combined SAT score of 820 or above (or ACT composite of 19 or above), or score at the 56th percentile or higher on the 1992 NELS mathematics and reading aptitude tests.


Data sources: The 1995-96 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:96); the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, Third Follow-up Survey, 1994 (NELS:88/94); the 1990 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, Second Follow-up (BPS:90/94); and the 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study, First Follow-up (B&B:93/94).

For technical information, see the complete report:

Horn, L., and Berktold, J. (1999). Students With Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Preparation, Participation, and Outcomes (NCES 1999-187).

For additional details on survey methodology, see

Riccobono, J.A., Whitmore, R.W., Gabel, T.J., Traccarella, M.A., Pratt, D.J., and Berkner, L.K. (1997). National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1995-96 (NPSAS:96) Methodology Report (NCES 98-073).

Haggerty, C., Dugoni, B., Reed, L., Cederlund, A., and Taylor, J. (1996). National Education Longitudinal Study: 1988-1994 (NELS:88/94) Methodology Report (NCES 96-174).

Green, P.J., Meyers, S.L., Giese, P., Law, J., Speizer, H.M., Tardino, V.S., and Knepper, P. (1996). Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study: 1993/94 First Follow-up Methodology Report (NCES 96-149).

Pratt, D.J., Whitmore, R.W., Wine, J.S., Blackwell, K.M., Forsyth, B.H., Smith, T.K., Becker, E.A., Veith, K.J., Mitchell, M., and Borman, G.D. (1996). Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study Second Follow-up (BPS:90/94) Final Technical Report (NCES 96-153).

Author affiliations: L. Horn and J. Berktold, MPR Associates, Inc.

For questions about content, contact Aurora D'Amico (aurora.d'amico@ed.gov).

To obtain the complete report (NCES 1999-187), call the toll- free ED Pubs number (877-433-7827), visit the NCES Web Site (http://nces.ed.gov), or contact GPO (202-512-1800).


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