By Nicholas Canfield, Research Assistant, National Disability Institute
It’s the question that millions of college students dread getting asked by inquisitive parents and impatient financiers: when are you going to graduate? For students with disabilities, college graduation opens the door for increased opportunity, job security, and better pay. The quicker that students with disabilities can exit the halls of higher education with a diploma in hand, the sooner they can be making money and paying off their student debt with lower total interest levels. Having a college has many benefits, but students must be dedicated for the long haul. Leaving college before graduating burdens a person with a disability with a large amount of debt and no degree in hand to overcome an employment environment that overwhelmingly shows a bias against them. Although everyone’s individual case and disability is different, some disabilities can make a college experience more challenging even with support provided by universities and other sources, so for students with disabilities, determining the likelihood of graduation success is an important factor in determining whether to respond affirmatively to a college acceptance letter.
As students with disabilities enter the halls of higher education this fall semester, one must ask another question, although one maybe not asked by prying parents: does having a disability decrease the likelihood of a student to graduate from university? If so, the risk of taking on student debt for no guaranteed return on investment might turn some away from the ivory towers of academia towards other more immediate sources of income.
In short and with a quite positive response, having a disability does not seem to reduce the probability of completing a four-year college degree once a student starts such a degree. According to one study done by Ball State University on a public four-year college in the Midwest (Wessel et al. 2009), students with disabilities graduate from college with similar rates as students without disabilities, yet there are some differences between when they do so.
If we merely look at four and five-year graduation rates, students with disabilities do have lower graduation rates than those without disabilities, but as time increases, students with disabilities have equally as high rates of college degree completion. This was also supported by a study published in 2014 by Hong et al., yet few studies exist which examine in detail the graduation rates of students with disabilities.
For those first-year students with disabilities who have just moved into their college dorms this fall, this data definitely supports the decision to send in a first tuition payment. Although it might take a little longer to do so, chances are you are just as likely to graduate college as everyone else in your class; however, you might be coming out of college with a slightly higher debt level due to an increased degree completion time on average. This means that good financing decisions now combined with a firm dedication can save you and your family money and turn out to be a great investment into your future.
So dream big, find the cheapest interest rates, and elevate your professional potential with the benefits of a four-year college degree!
Herbert, J. T., Hong, B. S., Byun, S. Y., Welsh, W., Kurz, C. A., & Atkinson, H. A. (2014). Persistence and graduation of college students seeking disability support services. Journal of Rehabilitation, 80(1), 22.
Wessel, R. D., Jones, J. A., Markle, L., & Westfall, C. (2009). Retention and Graduation of Students with Disabilities: Facilitating Student Success. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 21(3), 116-125.