- Though experts estimate up to 90% of students with disabilities graduate high school meeting standards necessary to be college-ready, federal data shows fewer than 35% of students with disabilities graduate from four-year institutions within 8 years, with outcomes at two-year institutions not being much better, according the Hechinger Report.
- Experts will contend however that students with disabilities have the capacity to do well, but require more attention in development of soft skills to help them get through, with K-12 groups like Noblesvilles Schools' Special Education Department working with the local district and business leaders to students' executive functioning, communication, critical thinking, and social skills.
- But even with attention on soft skills in high schools, institutions like the University of Ozarks are realizing that services like mentors and coordinators to help students with disabilities organize their workload are necessary to move the needle on graduation rates and prepare students for the workforce more equally — with 2011 federal study showing special education students earn on average $4 less an hour than other graduates.
Stony Brook University Chief Diversity Officer Lee Bitsoi recently said students with disabilities should be a huge focus for higher ed administrators, as they often fall through the cracks of conversations. But Beacon College President George Hagerty, whose institution exists primarily to ensure the success of these students, says that while these students have individual "islands of challenge" which are unique to their individual experiences, the types of supports these students need are the same types administrators should be employing to shore up the success of any students. Things like assistance with organizing workloads, immersing themselves in new environments and developing the types of soft skills — like easily communicating with others and thinking critically on the spot — are not only key to their feeling comfortable throughout the university experience, but also necessary to their ability to do well in the workforce and beyond. And these are the same types of skills which institutions should be working to impart for first-generation students and others who may not have someone readily available to walk them through the higher ed process.
To target these students, institutions can do a better job of providing services and making them publicly available to the students who need them, in a way that doesn't seem ostracizing or negative. These would include mentorship opportunities and counselors that are able to work with students on their skill development; schools can also invest in faculty development opportunities to work with teachers on their abilities to tailor their instruction and content to meet the learning needs of these students.
Additionally, universities truly seeking to move ahead in increasing graduation rates for students with disabilities can look toward creating K-12 partnerships, offering training programs for high school teachers to better prepare students to enter college. And institutions can help high schools build out their pre-existing programs to create a pipeline of students that have received instruction and make sure that these particular students continue to receive attention throughout their postsecondary education.