Students with Disabilities: Transition to College, Workforce, and Community

Multiple reports[1] indicate that the number of students with disabilities enrolled in K-12 schools has steadily increased since the initial passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) in 1975. Equally important, the number of students with disabilities who completed high school with a regular diploma increased by 50 percent between 1997/98 and 2006/07, showing a greater growth rate than the number of students exiting high school for the same period of time[2].

IES’ National Center for Special Education Research recently released a report describing students with disabilities’ transitions to postsecondary education, employment, and community involvement[3]. The report is based on longitudinal data and compares results from 1990 and 2005, including:

  • Youth with disabilities were more likely to have been reported to be employed and/or attending postsecondary school at the time of the 2005 interview (86%), as compared with the 1990 interview (65%).
  • Postsecondary enrollment rates were 19 percent higher in 2005 (46%) than in 1990 (26%) for youth with disabilities.
  • Youth with disabilities were more likely to have a savings account in 2005 (56%) than in 1990 (44%).
  • Reported rates of youth with disabilities participating in volunteer or community service activities were higher in 2005 (25%) than in 1990 (13%).

Despite positive trends, this report underscores the fact that students with disabilities have been conspicuously absent from nearly all of the conversations on education reform, practice, or research on fostering improved postsecondary/transition outcomes for students through accelerated mechanisms such as dual enrollment or Advanced Placement programs. Additionally, the compounding influence of educational attainment over a person’s life-span underscores the need to explore the potential relationship between participation in these accelerated programs and enhancing the college readiness of students with disabilities.


Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

[1] Alliance for Excellent Education [AEE] (2009). Fact Sheet: Students with disabilities in U.S. high schools. Washington, DC: Author.

[2] Author calculation based on the IDEA Part B data collected by the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education.


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