Date of Award

Spring 2-12-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Rong Chen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Kelchen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cindy Poore-Pariseau, Ph.D.


Students with Disabilities, Retention, Social Integration, Academic Integration, Postsecondary Education


In the last few decades, students with disabilities are one of the more recently discriminated minority groups to work towards equality in higher education. At least 11% of undergraduates, or two million students, have disclosed a disability in postsecondary education and this number continues to grow every year. Despite this growing enrollment, students with disabilities are not retaining or graduating at the same rate as their peers without disabilities. This could be due to the way they integrate in the social and academic systems of college, which has been proven to be an important predictor of retention. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between a student’s disability type and their first-year retention, as well as what factors may contribute to their retention. This study was also conducted to determine whether having a disability or not, and whether positive social and academic integration influences a student’s retention to their second year of college. Furthermore, this study was developed to provide various stakeholders within the K-12 and postsecondary sectors guidance on how to assist students with disabilities while they are transitioning into their first year of college in order to help them retain to their second year.

The samples used within this study were from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS 12/14). The samples included students with and without disabilities who first started their postsecondary education during the 2011-2012 academic year. The data that was used in this study was collected during the end of their first academic year in 2012 and then again at the end of their third academic year in 2014. Only students who attended 4-year public or private degree-granting institutions were included in the total sample. Furthermore, only students who indicated that they had a disability on the survey were included in the sub-sample of students with disabilities.

A logistic regression model with fixed effects was conducted for only the sub-sample of students with disabilities to determine if there was a relationship between disability type and retention, while controlling for all other student-level variables. The same model also examined whether there was a relationship between social/academic integration factors and first-year retention for students with disabilities. A series of interaction effects tests that included students with and without disabilities were run to determine if the relationship between retention and social/academic integration was different across the two populations. Multicollinearity was checked through the variance inflation factor (VIF) values, as well as through correlation matrices, and missing data was handled through multiple imputation. Finally, linear probability models were also run after each logistic regression in order to include the weight to ensure that results did not oversample the student-level factors and were representative of the sample.

The findings of this study indicated that lower socioeconomic status, middle socioeconomic status, learning disabilities, and the social integration factor of positive feelings of belonging are all significant predictors of first-year retention for students with disabilities. However, none of the predictors in the interaction effects tests were significant. This indicates that the relationship between the positive social/academic integration variables and retaining from the first year of college to the second is the same across students with and without disabilities.