Post-secondary education for individuals with disabilities
Can we learn to “ThinkCollege” from “Autism Goes to College?”
What about students with disabilities after high school, you might ask. Well, there are a lot of them, there are helpful organizations focused on them, there is research about them...plenty to learn. This post provides a starter.
Interest in post-secondary education for individuals with disabilities has probably never been higher than it is in 2022. Working with data from the US National Center for Educational Statistics, Raue and Lewis (2011) determined that 99% of public 2- and 4-year institutions of higher education reported that they enrolled students with disabilities.
Raue and Lewis (2011) also reported that there were approximately 700,000 students with disabilities in the academic year 2008-2009. Probably just about each public US institution of post-secondary education has an office or group responsible for providing services to students with disabilities. Working with US data from 2016-17, Snyder et al. (2019) reported that 3,755,000 with disabilities were enrolled in post-secondary institutions (see Table 311.10). That sounds like a growing population!
Some people who nod knowingly when learning that 99% of schools report having students with disabilities may have a mistaken idea about who’s going to college. They may envision students who, for example, use wheelchairs, but there are many students with other disabilities (e.g., specific learning disability, attention deficit disorder, health impairments, and psychiatric disorders) also attending post-secondary institutions (see Table 3, Raue & Lewis, 2011). What is more, there are students with autism and intellectual disability going to college (more later in this post).
It’s important to recognize that some post-secondary programs, especially those in 2-year institutions, may focus on technical skills. The programs at these schools help prepare students for careers in everything from aeronautics through carpentry to veterinary services. Such programs are important enough that Forbes magazine issued rankings of them (Coudriet, 2018). I think they’re damn important in their own right; they are more than just an extension of special education from 18-21, and I hope that fewer parents have experiences like the one that Laura McKenna reported. I see them as differentiated education…not shilly-shally BS, but sensible paths for students to pursue their goals—regardless of whether they have disabilities. Educators should promote such programs.
It’s also especially important to note that some colleges and universities have developed on-campus programs for individuals with intellectual disability. In the US, the Department of Education provided grants to institutions of higher education (or to groups of schools) to establish Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities. Although no new grants have been funded since 2016, some programs continue (see, for examples, those at Kent State University and George Mason University). Flexer and colleagues (2022) provided an overview of the student experience in such programs. It’d be so great if “the feds” and deep-pockets donors would relaunch the funding program, and expand it beyond intellectual disability to other groups of students who may not plan a traditional post-secondary education, but who would benefit from the college experience.
There are multiple organizations and agencies concerned with post-secondary education for individuals with disabilities. Here’s an incomplete list (please add faves that I’ve overlooked in the comments on this post):
Association on Higher Education and Disabilities (AHEAD) is an organization that promotes leadership, education, and training for professionals concerned with people with disabilities in higher education;
Autism Goes to College is a site that provides resources (a film, podcasts—a lot of very informative podcasts!) and discussion about autism and post-secondary education.
The US Rehabilitation Services Administration maintains an especially good starting place for finding general resources (not limited to post-secondary education).
A little research
Some researchers have examined questions about students with disabilities in post-secondary education situations. I’m not an expert about this topic, but I can recognize folks whom readers can trace.
Thoma and Getzel (2005) reported the results of interviews with post-secondary students who have disabilities. There were > 30 students in their focus groups; the students represented different ethnicities (not too many Asian-Americans) and disabilities (e.g., LD, OHI, Blind, etc.). The students told them that self-determination skills are important in success in college:
Participants in these focus group sessions clearly identified self-determination as important to their success in college and/of university settings. Many shared experiences of not self-disclosing... failing, and then choosing to disclose their disability and request the supports they needed. But each of them identified many of the key component skills of self-determination as outlined by Wehmeyer as being essential for their success, including problem-solving skills, learning about onesle (and one’s Disability), goal setting, and self-management. (p. 237)
The “Wehmeyer” to whom Thoma and Getzel referred is Michael L. Wehmeyer. He and his colleagues have been wonderfully productive contributors to the literature. Interested readers can start a master’s course in self-determination by reading (among others) Mithaug et al. (2003), Wehmeyer (2015), Wehmeyer et al. (1998) and Wehmeyer et al. (2017).
So, this is just a starter post. By publishing it, I want to alert readers to the existence of resources and evidence about post-secondary education for children (ahem) with disabilities. I hope that it helps some students, parents, and teachers to make good plans for the futures of students with disabilities.
Teach your students well for a long time!
Coudriet, C. 2018, 16 August). The top 25 two-year trade schools: Colleges than solve the skills gap. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/cartercoudriet/2018/08/15/the-top-25-two-year-trade-schools-colleges-that-can-solve-the-skills-gap/
Flexer, R., Baer, R., & Queen, R. M. (2022). Designing and implementing PSE opportunities for students with ID: An illustration of quality, access, and inclusion: A case study of quality, access, and inclusion. Journal of Inclusive Postsecondary Education, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.13021/jipe.2021.2940
Mithaug, D. E., Mithaug, D. I., Agran, M., Martin, J. E., & Wehmeyer, M. L. (2003). Self-determined learning theory: Construction, verification, and evaluation. Erlbaum.
Raue, K., & Lewis, L. (2011). Students with disabilities at degree-granting postsecondary institutions (NCES 2011–018). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011018.pdf
Snyder, T. D., Cristobal, d. B., & Dillow, S. A. (2019). Number and percentage distribution of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions, by level, disability status, and selected student characteristics: 2015–2016. Digest of Education Statistics 2017, 2018-070.
Thoma, C. A., & Getzel, E. E. (2005). “Self-determination is what it’s all about”: What Post-secondary Students with Disabilities Tell us are Important Considerations for Success. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 234-242. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/23879718.pdfWehmeyer, M. L., Shogren, K. A., & Palmer, S. B. (2017). Causal agency theory. Springer.
Wehmeyer, M. (2015). When does special education end? In B. Bateman, J. W. Lloyd, & M. Tankersley (Eds.), Enduring issues in special education: Personal perspectives (pp. 357-381). Routledge.
Wehmeyer, M. L., Agran, M., & Hughes, C. (1998). Teaching self-determination to students with disabilities: Basic skills for successful transition. Brookes.
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