Career Outcomes for College Graduates with Severe Physical and Sensory Disabilities

By DeLoach, Charlene P. | The Journal of Rehabilitation, January-March 1992 | Go to article overview

Career Outcomes for College Graduates with Severe Physical and Sensory Disabilities


DeLoach, Charlene P., The Journal of Rehabilitation


I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Chrisann SchiroGeist, Supervisor of Counseling Services in the University of Illinois' Rehabilitation Education Center and Joseph Larsen, Director of the Center, for their assistance both in formulating the direction of this investigation and in the data collection.

This work was supported in full or in part by a grant from Memphis State University Faculty Research Grant Fund. This support does not necessarily imply endorsement of research conclusions by the University.

Knowledge of the outcome of any human service delivery system is essential in an era of limited resources, when leaders, planners and policy makers must take results into consideration before deciding what services to support and what level of funding to provide. And as professionals who work in rehabilitation realize, the hallmark of effective vocational rehabilitation services is placement and retention in competitive employment.

Since the late 1970's when colleges and universities, under federal mandate, began to modify their campuses and to provide services to meet the needs of students with disabilities, the number of full-time college freshmen who identify themselves as disabled has increased from approximately 2.6 percent in 1978 to 7.4 percent in 1985 (Hippolitus, 1987). This increase may be due in part to rehabilitation counselors who, in an attempt to provide adequate services to persons who are severely disabled, often send a client to college to obtain an education that might make the difference between that client becoming successful or not. But while institutions of higher education currently admit and accommodate qualified applicants who have disabilities and while rehabilitation counselors provide financial sponsorship for clients with college potential, little has been done to evaluate the outcomes of a college education for individuals with severe physical and sensory disabilities.

In general, adults with disabilities have a higher unemployment rate than does any other segment of our population. Results of a recent Harris Poll (Harris, 1986) indicate that, overall, persons with disabilities who are of working age have an unemployment rate of approximately 65 percent, which the Poll ascribes to insufficient education and the subsequent lack of job skills necessary for today's labor market.

According to the Bureau of the Census, the percentages of persons who had work disabilities and who were in the work force ranged from 14.8 percent for those with less than 12 years to 46.5 percent for those with 16 or more years of education. This is compared to 54.1 percent and 82.2 percent, respectively, for those with no work disability (United States Department of Commerce, 1989).

According to studies of college alumni with disabilities, a college education does enhance the employability of individuals who are disabled, but not to the level of that of the general population. One survey, conducted within the California Community College System, was distributed to 3,000 persons with disabilities who had obtained their A.A. degree or certificate from a two-year institution within the previous three years. Of the 534 persons who participated in the California study 51 percent were employed, 41 percent were students and 8 percent were unemployed (Howard & Johns, 1986). Similarly, employment rates for disabled alumni from four community colleges in the Philadelphia area ranged from 40 percent to 55 percent (Thompson, 1986), while the rate for Memphis State University alumni, who graduated with a minimum of a bachelors degree between 1980 and 1986, was 62 percent (DeLoach, Sparger & Pullen, 1988). Finally, when the unemployment rate of physically disabled graduates of the University of Missouri between i 960 and 1977 was compared to the unemployment rate of disabled dropouts, Lonnquist (1979) discovered graduates had a 21 percent and dropouts a 48 percent unemployment rate. …

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