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Journal Issue: Special Education for Students with Disabilities Volume 6 Number 1 Spring 1996

Transition from High School to Work or College: How Special Education Students Fare
Mary M. Wagner Jose Blackorby

Summary

Results are reported from the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students. Dropout rates were high: 30% of students with disabilities dropped out of high school, and another 8% dropped out before entering high school. The average dropout with disabilities was 18 years old at the time of leaving but had earned less than half the credits needed to graduate.

Employment successes were strongly related to taking a concentration (four courses) in vocational education. Youths with learning disabilities or speech impairments were most likely to approach the rate of employment found in the general population. Postsecondary education was low: 37% of high school graduates with disabilities had attended a postsecondary school, compared with 78% of high school graduates generally. Students with hearing or visual impairments were most likely to attend college.

Students with disabilities were significantly more likely to be poor than were youths in the general population, and poverty tended to exacerbate the impact of having a disability. Impoverished students with disabilities were less likely than wealthier students with disabilities to be enrolled in those postsecondary education and training programs that could enable them to break out of poverty. When employed, the poorer students with disabilities earned significantly less per year than did those from wealthier families.

Placement in regular education (rather than special education) was associated both with better and worse postschool outcomes. Students with sensory or motor disabilities appeared to benefit from regular education placement. However, for many students, more time in regular education was associated with a higher likelihood of course failure, which was a strong predictor of dropping out of school.