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Factors influencing transition and persistence in the first year for community college students with disabilities

Dissertation
Author: Lori A. Corcoran
Abstract:
Community colleges have always played a crucial role in providing access to college, especially for students with disabilities. At the same time the rate of completion is exceptionally low for this particular population (Belch, 2004). In order to improve persistence and achievement measurably, colleges may seek clues in successful transitions by students with disabilities. This project presents a qualitative research study to illuminate factors that contribute to semester-by-semester success of community college students with disabilities during their first year. A conceptual model of successful transitional processes was developed from theoretical constructs reported in the literature and was expanded by data from individual case studies. Seven very strong stages emerged as a result of the research. These stages were: (1) pre-college experiences that influence academic involvement, (2) initial encounters that created first impressions, (3) transition shock, (4) support-seeking and strategic adjustment (5) prioritizing and balancing of college and non-college commitments, (6) recognizing success, and (7) a sense of belonging to the college community. These results indicated a successful transition into college is an important first step in persistence for students with disabilities. Persistence of students with disabilities requires further attention and research in order to improve graduation rates of these students at community colleges.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Page

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................................................................ v ABSTRACT ................................................................................................................ vi CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................ 1 Statement of Problem ........................................................................................ 2 Purpose of the Study ......................................................................................... 4 Research Questions ........................................................................................... 5 Significance of the Study .................................................................................. 6 Assumptions ..................................................................................................... 7 Limitations ........................................................................................................ 8 Definitions ........................................................................................................ 8 Overview ........................................................................................................ 10

2. REVIEW OF LITERATURE .......................................................................... 12 Introduction .................................................................................................... 12 Historical Overview of Students with Disabilities in Higher Education ........... 13 Transition for Students with Disabilities and Issues of Retention ..................... 16

Retention ............................................................................................. 18 Research Testing Student Integration and Student Attrition Models .......................................................................................... 24

Strategies to Enhance Transition for First-Year Students with Disabilities ....... 29

Advising/Counseling ........................................................................... 30 Freshmen Seminar ............................................................................... 33 Universal Design ................................................................................. 36 Academic Skills Training .................................................................... 38 Student Responsibilities and Self-Advocacy ........................................ 40

Critique and Analysis ...................................................................................... 41 Summary ....................................................................................................... 44

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3. METHODOLOGY ......................................................................................... 46 Introduction .................................................................................................... 46 Conceptual Framework ................................................................................... 46 Research Questions ......................................................................................... 49 Research Design ............................................................................................. 49 Research Site .................................................................................................. 51 Participants/Data Source ................................................................................. 51 Trustworthiness/Authenticity .......................................................................... 53 Data/Measuring/Coding .................................................................................. 53 Analysis .......................................................................................................... 55 Conclusions .................................................................................................... 56

4. FINDINGS ..................................................................................................... 58 Introduction .................................................................................................... 58

The Participants ................................................................................... 58

Overview of the First-Year Transitional Success Process Model .................... 61 Pre-College Experiences ................................................................................. 63 Initial Encounters ............................................................................................ 65 Transition Shock ............................................................................................. 68 Strategic Adjustment ....................................................................................... 72 Prioritizing Commitments ............................................................................... 77 Recognizing Success ....................................................................................... 80 Sense of Belonging ......................................................................................... 84 Strategies for Success ...................................................................................... 87 Summary ........................................................................................................ 90

5. DISCUSSION ................................................................................................. 91 Introduction .................................................................................................... 91 Review of the Research Questions .................................................................. 92 Recommendations ........................................................................................... 97

Policy .................................................................................................. 98 Practice ............................................................................................... 99 Future Research ..................................................................................102

Conclusion .....................................................................................................104

APPENDICES A. INFORMED CONSENT LETTER ................................................................106 B. INTERVIEW/QUESTIONS ...........................................................................107

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C. CONCEPT MAP 1 .........................................................................................109 D. CONCEPT MAP 2 .........................................................................................110 E. COLLEGE SUPPPORT CHECKLIST ...........................................................111 BIBLIOGRAPHY .....................................................................................................112

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CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The retention and persistence of community college students is gaining increased attention as an important issue of policy and practice in higher education. Additionally, students with disabilities are an increasing constituent within higher education and are among the most at-risk, and perhaps least studied, group of students attending postsecondary educational institutions. Given that community colleges tend to enroll more students with disabilities than do other types of postsecondary institutions (Upcraft, Gardner, Barefoot, et al, 2005; National Center for Education Statistics, 1999) more research is needed on the success of students with disabilities in community colleges. More generally, the American College Testing Program (2001), noted that approximately 45 percent of students enrolled in two-year colleges depart during their first year. In addition, Wasley (2006) concludes that a major difficulty faced by commuter students is the lack of feeling and being connected to the college community. As a result, almost all colleges have started to implement some form of intervention to increase persistence during the first year of postsecondary enrollment (Upcraft et al, 2005). Such intervention requires the support from the entire institution, including involvement from all departments, with the main goal being a commitment to the student. This institutional environment as a portion of the intervention enhances first-year success. At a time that colleges are developing more first-year intervention programs, the demographics of today‘s first-year students are constantly changing and these changes need to be considered in planning such college intervention programs. The National Center for Education Statistics report that public two-year colleges enroll more than half

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of all college students reporting a disability (Phillippe, 1997). Belch (2004) concluded that an increased number of students with disabilities are attending postsecondary institutions, but the rate of degree completion is not increasing for these students. During the first-year of college, a student‘s persistence and success relate to factors that provide a smoother college transition. Astin‘s Input-Environment-Outcome model (1993) is one of a few models that attempts to explain student persistence in college by looking at the influences (variables) that affect such persistence. Astin identifies the inputs or control variables including gender, race/ethnicity, and age to name a few of the possible 146 inputs that influence the outcomes such as persistence. Disability needs to be included as a demographic factor as an input variable to continue to allow for a broader range of demographics. Similarly, Tinto‘s (1975, 1982) theory of student integration looked at integration both social and intellectual between the student and the institution as the primary factor for persistence. Overall, the important piece is the college‘s commitment to develop a program that Noel, Levitz, & Saluri (1985) says allows ―more students to learn, the more they sense they are finding and developing a talent, the more likely they are to persist; and when we get student success, satisfaction, and learning together, persistence is the outcome‖ (p.1).

Statement of Problem

Much research has been conducted on the retention and persistence of college students (e.g. Allen, 1999; Berger & Lyon, 2005; Goodman & Pascarella, 2006; Milem & Berger, 1997; Tinto, 1993). However, despite the voluminous literature on this topic, individuals with disabilities are one group of college students that remains under-studied

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despite being among the most vulnerable and at-risk populations (Belch, 2004; Lane & Carter, 2006; Vogel & Adelman, 1992). This at-risk population is an increasingly important area of study as the number of college students with documented disabilities continues to grow each year. For example, the percentage of college freshmen reporting disabilities increased from less than 3 percent in 1978 to 11.3 percent in 2004 ( http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=60 ). According to Flick-Hruska and Blythe (1992), the increase is due to mainstreaming in high schools, postsecondary institutional efforts to make facilities and programs accessible to students with disabilities, and students‘ perceptions that higher education provides an opportunity for more independence as well as advancement in employment opportunities. Although the rates of enrollment for students with disabilities are increasing, the rates of persistence are not. Only 36% of students with learning disabilities received a degree within five years in contrast to 50% of students without a disability in a study from three large school districts in the northwestern United States (Murray, Goldstein, Nourse, & Edgar, 2000). In addition, findings from the National Education Longitudinal Study indicate that students with disabilities are attending community colleges more frequently because they may be less academically prepared for college than those without disabilities (Horn & Berktold, 1999). Further, survey results from 1995-96 indicate that 21% of students with a disability at a public two-year institution reported taking at least one remedial course compared to 14% of students without a disability. In order to better address this concern about persistence, a deeper understanding is needed regarding the factors that influence transition and persistence of first-year college students with disabilities.

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Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to investigate factors that contribute to the semester-by-semester success of community college students with disabilities during their freshmen year. This study was designed to add to the body of knowledge about the supports needed by students with disabilities to transition successfully into higher education and to persist throughout ensuing semesters. Wessel, Jones, Markle, and Westfall (2009) reaffirmed research by Adler (1999) that drop-out was highest for students with disabilities during the first weeks of the semester, especially in the fall. Harris & Associates (2000), noted that only 12% of students with disabilities had graduated from college. Given these alarming statistics, this study was designed to illuminate factors successful first-year students with disabilities identify as helping them to achieve academically and to persist through the first critical year of college, with specific focus on the fall semester. More specifically, this study examined intervention activities for students with disabilities at a community college in order to identify key strategies that promote successful transition to and performance in one community college. These strategies potentially included, but were not limited to, advisor/counselor contact, freshmen seminar, and academic skills training. In addition using case study methodology, this study was attempted to replicate and extend aspects of existing research by examining students with disabilities to determine the significance of the academic environment and the role of college services as the two most important factors affecting college persistence and student success.

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Utilizing qualitative research with individual interviews, this study was designed to further illuminate how Astin‘s persistence model can highlight factors that will impact student persistence. This research provided an improved road map that made it easier for future students with disabilities to navigate the pathways of the first-year transition into higher education and to persist to graduation. The study also intended to increase institutional knowledge about the needs of students with disabilities attending community college.

Research Questions

Given the purpose of this research, this study addressed the following research questions: How do successful first-year students with disabilities describe their experiences as they transition into college? How do successful first-year students with disabilities describe their experiences with the college academic environment (such as academic advising, first-year seminar course)? How do successful first-year students with disabilities describe their experiences with their college support services environment (such as tutoring centers, or workshops)? How do successful first-year students with disabilities describe college success?

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Significance of the Study

College departure of students has been the focus of much research for more than seventy years (Berger & Lyon, 2005; Braxton, 2000a; Braxton et al, 2004). These departure studies allow institutions to understand the factors that contribute to student persistence. This study focused on reasons that students with disabilities choose to stay in college and persist during their freshman year. In 1999, the U.S. Department of Education‘s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that an estimated 428, 280 students with disabilities were enrolled at two-year and four-year postsecondary educational institutions. The numbers of students with disabilities transitioning from high school to higher education is expected to increase even more in the decades to come because of increased implementation of federal laws. Consequently, it is critical for community colleges to better understand the factors that contribute to student persistence especially during the freshmen year. Research has shown that honors, bridge-type, career, and early-start programs are ways in which community colleges help high school students make the transition to higher education (Grant-Vallone Reid, Umali and Pohlert, 2004). In addition, Summers (2003) reports that early intervention by student support services for community college students who are not academically prepared is found to be beneficial. Some identified support services are counseling, advising, and tutoring (Roueche and Roueche, 2001). However, few studies explore the quality of access and participation of students with disabilities in such higher education programs and services. Despite the rapid growth of students with disabilities attending postsecondary, not all will earn a degree

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(Belch, 2004). This study provided data on factors related to transitioning into college as well as insight from the students‘ perspectives regarding an intervention program to enhance persistence for students with learning disabilities during their first year of study at a community college. The purpose was to acquire a deeper understanding about the factors that influence transition and persistence in the first year for students with disabilities. If this study can produce more evidence about the factors viewed as being most important for the persistence of students with learning disabilities, then such information can be useful in planning future transition and first-year support programs.

Assumptions

This study included the following assumptions: a) incoming freshmen students with disabilities, specifically learning disabilities, selected to be interviewed will provide a more in-depth answer to the research questions, b) the data collected will measure the knowledge and perceptions of factors that influence a successful transition for students with disabilities, and c) the interpretation of the data will reflect the perceptions of the students with learning disabilities who participated. One assumption of the study was that the chosen qualitative type of methodology (multiple case studies) will provide the researcher with insider information on the factors that students with learning disabilities perceive as promoting or detracting from persistence in their first-year of college. The interviews allowed participants to generate insights as well as provide an in-depth focus with a smaller number of participants answering open-ended questions.

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Limitations

Only a small number of students with learning disabilities were selected in a single-site study. One should be cautious about generalizing the findings of the study to all students with learning disabilities, to students with disabilities in general, and/or to other institutions. However, this study rigorously employed established qualitative research principles and practices in order to provide knowledge that is potentially transferable across contexts. Also, the research was conducted and interpreted through the Associate Dean who oversees the Disability Services department at the Community College in which the research was performed. This relationship with the students might in itself influence persistence as a factor.

Definitions

The following terms are used in this study: Student with disabilities : students are considered to have a disability if they experience functional limitations that significantly restrict one or more of life‘s essential activities such as walking, seeing, and learning (ADA Amendments Act, 2008). Learning disability : A generic term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition or use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual and presumed due to central nervous system dysfunctions. Even though a learning disability may occur concomitantly with other handicapping conditions, it is not a direct result of those conditions (Brinckerhoff, Shaw, & McGuire, 2002, p.113; The National Joint Committee for Learning Disabilities, 1994a, pp.65-66).

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Transition : a change in status from behaving primarily as a student to assuming adult roles in one‘s community (Halpern, 1994). Persistence : the re-enrollment of a student from one semester to the following semester (Summers, 2003). Retention : completion of a certificate or degree program in the same institution (Berger & Lyon, 2005). Successful : the first-year student who navigates his/her transition into college by making connections on campus, earning credits by completing coursework, and persisting from first to second semester. Accommodations : actions or services such as extended time or sign language interpreters that provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of the educational environment. Developmental Advising Model : a student-centered academic advising approach starting with the advisor providing more of the information and making more of the decisions and working towards the student making the decisions and the advisor just serving as support. Remedial Courses : supplemental academic coursework provided to students to ensure basic skills mastery, which may include remedial English and/or fundamental math classes. First-year Seminar : a course designed to assist first-year students in their transition to the college, to highlight the large array of educational opportunities available, and to integrate the students into the institution.

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Universal Design (UD) : a way of designing ―products and environments to be usable to the greatest extent possible by people of all ages and abilities‖ (Story, Mueller, and Mace, 1998). Transition Center : a student support office for students with disabilities whose primary mission is to implement a Student Success Plan aimed at increasing persistence in college by helping each student develop transitional skills within tutoring sessions. Transition Skills: the following skills that assist with persistence are: learning styles, time management, organization, notetaking, study skills, test taking strategies, self advocacy, reading, writing, introduction to assistive technology, and introduction to other tutoring centers available in the college.

Overview

This dissertation consists of five chapters followed by references, an appendix, and a bibliography. This chapter outlined the statement of the problem, purpose of the study, research questions, significance of the study, assumptions made by the researcher, and explanation of key terms. Chapter Two is a review of the literature. It will provide background information about students with disabilities in higher education, the laws that provide access, transitioning and issues of retention for students with disabilities, and the variables that influence persistence during the freshmen year. Chapter Three will explain the research methodology that will be used to conduct this study, including the study design, participants, data collection and analysis techniques that will be utilized. Chapter Four will give details of the results by describing the participants and the key findings of the

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study. Chapter Five will inform the research questions and provide recommendations to policy, practice, and future research.

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CHAPTER 2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE

Introduction

The purpose of this study was to understand the perspectives of students with disabilities and the different paths chosen in the college environment that encourage persistence. An integral contributor to student‘s persistence in college is the first year transition (Goodman & Pascarella, 2006). The factors that influence transition for the general student population need to be understood in order to increase persistence/retention for students with disabilities. Persistence can be defined as the re- enrollment of a student from one semester to the following semester (Summers, 2003) whereas retention is seen as the completion of a degree program. This chapter will provide an overview of the history of students with disabilities attending higher education. The literature will show the importance of the laws that enabled students with disabilities to attend college with accommodations to ensure access both in and out of the classroom. Throughout the review, persistence and retention, as well as contemporary issues of interest, will be examined more closely, particularly by comparing four year institutions to two year institutions (community colleges). Another important factor to be examined will be the role of transitioning into higher education both for the general student population and students with disabilities. In addition, student development theories and their impact in identifying strategies that are important for increasing persistence/retention during students‘ first year of study will be explored. Some of the strategies reviewed will be the advisor/counselor contact, freshman seminar,

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and academic skills training as they enhance retention for the general student population. These strategies will then be examined for their applicability to students with disabilities, specifically at community colleges.

Historical Overview of Students with Disabilities in Higher Education

The history of students with disabilities being encouraged to attend college was practically nonexistent prior to 1960 (Belch, 2004). The original GI Bill, which ended in 1956, provided the opportunity to continue education for those servicemen who became disabled during their service. Their increased enrollment gave rise to the recognition of students with disabilities participating in higher education (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, http://www.gibill.va.gov/ ). After the GI Bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal funds (U. S. National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/civil-rights-act/ ). However, disability was not included. Not until the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were civil rights expanded to include people with disabilities. Additional legislation (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and ADA Amendments Act of 2008) was passed to ensure equal access. Today, higher education continues to experience a growth in attendance of students with disabilities due to the combination of these laws that are designed to facilitate access. Existing laws define a person with a disability as one who experiences functional limitations in one or more of life‘s essential activities such as walking, seeing, and learning (ADA, 1990). In 2008, the ADA Amendments Act expanded the qualification

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standards in that the impairment must now ―significantly restrict‖ instead of ―severely restrict‖ a major life function, a less stringent standard. General categories of disabilities that are often served by these higher education institutions are: deaf and hard of hearing, visual impairments, mobility impairments, psychiatric disabilities, learning disabilities, attention deficit\hyperactivity disorders, systemic disabilities, brain injuries, and multiple chemical sensitivities/environmental illness (Belch, 2004). Each year, numbers of students with documented disabilities are increasing in attendance at postsecondary institutions. There are several reasons for the growth in the number and percentage of students with disabilities registering for college. First, ADA and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) have allowed a greater number of students with disabilities to attend and succeed in high school, thus making them eligible to enroll in college. According to American Council on Education, the proportion of full- time freshmen who reported having one or more disabilities increased from 2.6% in 1978 to a high of 8.2% in 1994, and most recently, 6.0% in 2000 (Henderson, 2001). In order to understand the dramatic increase, another study by the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) (U.S. Department of Education, NCES, 1999 - 2000) showed there was a 9.3% enrollment of students with disabilities compared to Henderson‘s sample of 6.0%. This increase was because the NPSAS sample included students enrolled in less than two-year institutions and community colleges as well as in four-year colleges and universities. The percentage distribution overall of students reporting disabilities between 1988 to 2000 by NPSAS showed increases in the following categories: orthopedic or mobility impairments, mental illness, health impairment or problem, visual or hearing impairment, learning disability or ADD/ADHD, and other

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disabilities. Reasons cited for the increase are due to: 1) the categories used to identify the disability type (i.e. mobility vs. orthopedic or mobility), and 2) inclusion of less than two-year institutions and community colleges. Also, these percentages are likely to be underestimates (NCES, 1999 - 2000) because so many students with disabilities enroll on a part-time basis while these studies review only full-time enrollment. Secondly, an increase in numbers of students with mild disabilities, such as learning disabilities and ADHD, has occurred perhaps due to more pervasive testing. These mild disabilities accounted for 16.1 percent of the total freshmen with disabilities in 1988 but 40.4 percent in 2000 (Henderson, 2001). Vogel, Leonard, Scales, Hermansen, and Donnells (1998) conducted a study across various types of institutions in higher education and showed the proportion of students with documented learning disabilities was higher in community colleges at 10 percent of the student population compared to .5 percent in the four-year universities. The overall proportion of students with learning disabilities in higher education was 2.4 percent of the total student population. Lastly, individuals with disabilities at all ages are attending college even more because of the advances in medicine that allow one to function more effectively physically, academically, and/or socially. Although the number of students with disabilities entering the postsecondary environment is increasing, the number earning a degree is not. Only 36% of students with learning disabilities received a degree within five years in contrast to 50% of students without a disability in a study from three large school districts in the northwestern United States (Murray et al, 2000).

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Students with disabilities face a number of challenges other students do not. They struggle to be accepted and to adapt to the college rigors through the utilization of accommodations (Thomas, 2000). Examples of reasonable accommodations which students with disabilities may require are: sign language interpreters; scribes; readers; notetakers; taped classes and/or texts; enlarged copies of notes, required readings, handouts and exam questions; extended time on exams; less distracting testing environment; assistive technology; and preferential seating in the classroom. Accommodations provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of the educational environment. In order to meet these postsecondary challenges students also need to self-identify as having a disability, identify necessary accommodations, and develop relationships with faculty to promote these accommodations. Students with disabilities often need to overcome the negative attitudes and perceptions regarding disabilities that exist on the part of the faculty who teach them, the other students who attend, and within themselves (Jensen, McCrary, Krampe, & Cooper, 2004).

Transition for Students with Disabilities and Issues of Retention

As students with disabilities register for courses at the postsecondary level, institutions need to review the transition process for this population. The first year transition is integral to a student‘s persistence in college (Goodman & Pascaraella, 2006). Halpern (1994) defined transition as referring to a change in status from behaving primarily as a student to assuming adult roles in one‘s community. The literature (Belch, 2004; Repetto & Correa, 1996; Serebreni, Rumrill, Mullins & Gorden, 1993) indicates

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that students with disabilities experience even greater degrees of difficulty during the transition process than do their counterparts without disabilities. Some of these difficulties include poor organization skills, poor time management skills, test taking anxieties, low self-concept, and a lack of assertiveness in being a self-advocate (Smith, English & Vasek, 2002). Culbertson (1998) noted that low self-concept contributes to a high level of peer rejection and loneliness, which leads to multiple emotional problems. These difficulties are amplified by the move from an environment, for example high school, wherein students are carefully guided by school staff and individually taught by specialized teachers to an environment wherein they are expected to achieve on their own (Dalk & Schmitt, 1987). In response to the need for smoother transitions to postsecondary institutions for students with disabilities, legislation was changed to include transition services within IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 and its 1997 Amendments established transition planning and services as a component of a student‘s Individualized Education Program (IEP), beginning at the age of 14 (Mull & Sitlington, 2003). The transition plan is a long-term plan process coordinated by the family, student, and high school personnel with the goal of preparing a student for moving from high school to adult life (Repetto & Correa, 1996). Students with disabilities need to develop a thorough understanding of the challenges involved in transferring from high school to college and be involved in developing their transition plan, because the student role shifts to one with greater emphasis on the student as the decision-maker in higher education (Smith et al, 2002).

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Retention

While a successful transition from high school to college is important for students with disabilities, even more important is persistence/retention. The study of college student retention strategies for students with disabilities is fairly new; however, it is embedded in a larger literature on college impact and student development theory. Research on college student development suggests that transition to higher education is particularly critical to retention. Transition involves a series of changes that influence student growth beginning in the freshman year and continuing through graduation (Chickering, 1969). For example, Tinto (1988) found that the first term, especially the first six weeks, is particularly crucial, as it is during this time that students are most susceptible and sensitive to feelings of marginality. At the institutional level, student retention is a major focus for colleges and universities. The U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics ( http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/glossary/index.asp?id=772 ) measures the rate of retention of students who ―persist in their educational program at an institution, expressed as a percentage. For four-year institutions, this is the percentage of first-time bachelors (or equivalent) degree-seeking undergraduates from the previous fall who are again enrolled in the current fall. For all other institutions this is the percentage of first-time degree/certificate-seeking students from the previous fall who either re-enrolled or successfully completed their program by the current fall.‖ This is one definition of retention, and there are many alternative definitions. For example, Berger and Lyon (2005) define retention as ―referring to the ability of an institution to retain a student from admission to the university through graduation (p. 7).‖

Full document contains 134 pages
Abstract: Community colleges have always played a crucial role in providing access to college, especially for students with disabilities. At the same time the rate of completion is exceptionally low for this particular population (Belch, 2004). In order to improve persistence and achievement measurably, colleges may seek clues in successful transitions by students with disabilities. This project presents a qualitative research study to illuminate factors that contribute to semester-by-semester success of community college students with disabilities during their first year. A conceptual model of successful transitional processes was developed from theoretical constructs reported in the literature and was expanded by data from individual case studies. Seven very strong stages emerged as a result of the research. These stages were: (1) pre-college experiences that influence academic involvement, (2) initial encounters that created first impressions, (3) transition shock, (4) support-seeking and strategic adjustment (5) prioritizing and balancing of college and non-college commitments, (6) recognizing success, and (7) a sense of belonging to the college community. These results indicated a successful transition into college is an important first step in persistence for students with disabilities. Persistence of students with disabilities requires further attention and research in order to improve graduation rates of these students at community colleges.