Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Making the Transition to Postsecondary Education and Training

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Making the Transition to Postsecondary Education and Training

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: A nationally representative sample of youth with disabilities who recently exited high school was studied to determine the participation of the youth in postsecondary educational programs. The results show that youth with disabilities participate in postsecondary programs at only one-quarter the rate attained by their counterparts without disabilities and at only one-third the rate attained by economically disadbantaged youth. The relationship of postsecondary education for youth with disabilities to long-term success in employment is yet to be determined.

Although Public Law 94-142 has increased access to elementary and secondary education for youth with disabilities (Office of Special Education Programs, 1988; Wright, Cooperstein, Grogan-Renneker, & Padilla, 1982), individuals with disabilities continue to lag behind those without disabilities in virtually every indicator of economic activity (Czajka, 1984; Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985; Lando, Cutler, & Gamber, 1982; Mithaug, Horiuchi, & Fanning, 1985; Newman, 1988). This evidence has raised concern that access to schooling, although crucial, is not sufficient to prepare individuals with disabilities for postschool social and economic independence. As a consequence, the transition period between high school and adult life has become a major focus of attempts to assist individuals with disabilities in achieving an independent life (Will, 1984).

A major factor in the transition from high school to adulthood is access to and success in postsecondary education and training. Participation in and completion of postsecondary collegiate and vocational programs enhances the development of self-esteem (Feldman & Newcomb, 1969) and the likelihood of obtaining employment, for individuals both with disabilities (Flynn, 198 1) and without (Rumberger & Daymont, 1984). For example, Rumberger and Daymont found that participation in postsecondary vocational training is more strongly related to long-term employability than is completion of secondary vocational programs.

Despite the increased emphasis by federal and state policymakers, educators, and parents on the transition period between high school and adulthood, little is known about the participation of youth with disabilities in postsecondary education and training programs. Previous research typically has focused on a single state (e.g., Hasazi et al., 1985), a single type of disability (e.g., Kirchner & Simon, 1984), and a limited number of traditional collegiate programs (Willingham, 1987). This research uses a new national data base, the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students (hereafter the National Transition Study), to examine the nationwide level of participation in various postsecondary educational settings by youth with a variety of disabilities. Comparative data for individuals without disabilities are also examined.


A nationally representative sample of special education students in each of the I I federal handicapping conditions was selected in two stages.

First, a national probability sample of 626 school districts serving Grade 7 or higher, which included a supplemental sample of 25 special schools serving deaf and blind youth, was selected from a population of 13,180. This sample was stratified by geographic region, enrollment, and community wealth (the proportion of students living below the poverty level). Of the 626 local education agencies (LEAs), 303 agreed to participate. To test for potential bias, the sample of 303 LEAs was compared with the population of school districts on the following measures: metropolitan status (urban, suburban, rural), percent minority enrollment, special education enrollment, types of disabilities served, and the extent of school resources for special education students. No systematic bias was evident (Javitz, 1986).

Sampled districts provided a roster of special education students aged 13 and older who were in Grades 7-12 in the 1985-86 school year. …

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