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Does College Training Have a Role to Play in VR?

A study funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).

People with disabilities in the United States face daunting prospects when it comes to employment. Unemployment rates are significantly higher for people with disabilities than those of the general public and, when employed, people with disabilities are likely to earn less than people without disabilities. To help lessen this disparity, vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs are designed to assist job seekers with disabilities by offering training and support as they enter in or return to the workforce. VR programs are also vital to helping young people with disabilities to transition out of school and into higher education and/or employment. One of the interventions available to VR counselors in support of their clients with disabilities is college or university training. A recent NIDILRR-funded study has shown that such training has the potential to significantly improve earning power for people with disabilities.

Researchers at the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Individual-Level Characteristics Related to Employment among Individuals with Disabilities analyzed the data of more than 170,000 successfully-closed VR cases to see who were likely to receive college or university training as part of their VR program, and whether that training made a difference in wages. College or university training is full- or part-time training above the high school level that leads to a degree, certification, or other recognized credential. The training is offered through college or university courses at a four- or two-year institution like a university or a community or technical college.

The researchers found that 12 percent of people with disabilities in the study’s sample received college or university training as part of their VR services. They also identified characteristics of the VR clients who were more likely to receive college or university training, differentiated by type of disability, age, gender, and race, as listed below:

  • Younger people with disabilities (16-25) were more likely to receive college/university training than people older than 25.
  • People with sensory or physical disabilities were more likely to receive training than those with intellectual, developmental, or psychiatric disabilities.
  • People who were White, American Indian/Alaska Native, or Asian were more likely to receive training than people who were African American, Hispanic/Latino, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.
  • Women with disabilities were more likely than men with disabilities to receive training.

Next, the researchers compared weekly earnings of people who received college or university training to those of people who did not receive such training within six groups of VR service recipients: women with physical disabilities, people with sensory disabilities, men with physical and sensory disabilities, minorities with physical and sensory disabilities, people with intellectual/developmental or psychiatric disabilities, and people with disabilities over 25 years old. Across all six groups, the people who received college or university training earned nearly $100 more per week than their counterparts. While people with disabilities over 25 and young adults with intellectual/developmental or psychiatric disabilities were less likely to receive training in general, they were still found to benefit from the training when they did receive it.

From these findings, the researchers concluded that university or college training as a VR intervention could improve earning levels of people with disabilities representing different age, gender, race, and types of disabilities. The researchers suggested that VR counselors might want to consider college and university training as a viable intervention for their clients, including those they might not normally consider appropriate for such training. The authors noted that future research is needed to understand which groups may receive the greatest benefits, and to identify promising practices in postsecondary education that support adjustment to college life, retention, career development, and job placement of college students with disabilities.

To learn more:

The NIDILRR-funded RRTC on Community Integration of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities has toolkits, guides, and factsheets on supports for college students with mental health issues

Think College is a national organization dedicated to developing, expanding, and improving inclusive higher education options for people with intellectual disability. This center maintains the only database of college programs for people with intellectual disabilities.

To learn more about this study:

O’Neill, J., Kang, H., Sanchez, J., Muller, V., Aldrich, H., Pfaller, J., and Chan, F. (2015) Effect of college or university training on earnings of people with disabilities: A case control study . Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 43: 93-102 This article is available from NARIC under Accession Number J72209.

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