Supporting College Success for Students with Disabilities

Key Takeaway:

More students with disabilities (SWD) are attending college today than ever before; yet, limitations of the current research base preclude the identification of evidence-based predictors of college success for SWD. However, several studies present promising evidence to influence post-secondary outcomes through the development of student-centered skills (i.e., learning and study strategies and self-advocacy). —Ashley Parnell

Establishing Evidence-Based Practices for Postsecondary Experience

More students with disabilities (SWD) are attending college today than ever before, with SWD accounting for more than 19% of all undergraduate students.1  While the presence of a disability does not negatively influence eventual graduation, SWD take longer to graduate and often find the transition to college more difficult than students without disabilities.2 As such, identifying evidence-based practices and predictors would help practitioners to better support secondary transition and the postsecondary experiences of SWD.   

The purpose of this systematic literature review was to determine whether evidence-based practices can be identified that influence or predict college success for SWD. Researchers identified 28 studies that analyzed factors related to student GPA, retention, and graduation according to their inclusion criteria. 

Articles were rated according to a modified version of the NTACT Quality Indicators criteria for correlational research to determine if sufficient information existed to identify evidence-based, research-based, and promising practices related to factors that impact student success. However, too few studies met these criteria indicating that the research base is not yet robust enough to confidently report evidence-based practices. Given the paucity and reasonable quality of the identified research base, the research team decided to move forward with the analysis of all articles. 

Moving Forward: Practice Implications & Future Research

The results of this analysis provide researchers and practitioners with key takeaways specific to future research and secondary transition planning. 

 Results suggest several critical implications for secondary transition:

  • Student-specific factors (i.e., characteristics & skills) rather than institutional factors influenced or predicted success in college.
  • Self-advocacy and understanding one’s disability, including one’s strengths and needs (including academic accommodations), should be a critical part of secondary transition planning.
  • Learning & study skill instruction should be infused throughout secondary academic coursework. 

To grow & develop the current research base, the research team suggests:

  • Increases in research funding to support identification of research-based practices for improving postsecondary outcomes for SWD.
  • Employ more rigorous methodologies and examine long-term measures.
  • Further examination of predictors such as self-determination, college readiness, social connectedness, and integration.
  • Inclusion and consideration of student demographic details.

Summarized Article:

Madaus, J. W., Gelbar, N., Lyman, L. D., Taconet, A. & Faggella-Luby, M. (2020). Are there predictors of success for students with disabilities pursuing postsecondary education?. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 44(4), 191-202. 

Summary by: Ashley M. Parnell — Ashley strives to apply the MARIO Framework to build evidence-based learning environments that support student engagement, empowerment, and passion and is working with a team of educators to grow and share this framework with other educators.

Additional References:

  1. National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). IPEDS 2019-20 data collection system. United States Department of Education.
  2. Knight, W., Wessel, R., & Markle, L. (2018). Persistence to graduation for students with disabilities: Implications for performance-based outcomes. Journal of College Students Retention: Research, Theory, & Practice. 19(4), 362-380.  

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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