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IES Grant

Title: National Disability Center for Student Success
Center: NCSER Year: 2023
Principal Investigator: Cawthon, Stephanie Awardee: University of Texas, Austin
Program: Special Education Research and Development Center Program      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (08/01/2023 – 07/31/2028) Award Amount: $4,991,201
Type: Exploration Award Number: R324C230008

Co-Principal Investigators: Dillon, Andrew; Roberts, Gregory

Purpose: The purpose of the National Disability Center for Student Success (Center) is to advance the capacity of postsecondary institutions in the United States to support the successful enrollment, persistence, and completion of degrees by postsecondary students with disabilities (PSWD). The Center activities draw upon three main conceptual frameworks: (a) student engagement is a critical predictor of student success; (b) instructors need support in building their accessibility knowledge base, mindset, and skill set; and (c) the success of students with disabilities requires a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach across administrative units at an institution. The Center will use a student-centered approach to understanding the experiences, obstacles, and opportunities to support PSWD success, both while enrolled in postsecondary programs and institutions and as they enter the workforce.

Focused Program of Research: This Center plan proposes ten studies over a 5-year period.

  • Studies 1 and 2 focus on secondary analysis of two large postsecondary datasets—the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), designed to measure important aspects of the student experience at 2-year and 4-year colleges, respectively. The study team will validate a measure of perceived campus accessibility in the first study using expert review, cognitive labs, and a pilot survey in a format that aligns with the study modules used in CCSSE and NSSE. Study 2 will examine perceived campus accessibility as a moderator variable between demographic predictors and PSWD outcomes utilizing the validated module within the administration of the CCSSE and NSSE.
  • Studies 3 and 4 consist of design studies to examine student success initiatives and their accessibility for PSWD. These initiatives (e.g., skill development programs, disability cultural centers) target the quality of the learning environment and the social, identity, and community-based contexts that support students as they enroll, persist, and complete their degree programs. Study 3 will focus on iterative design studies of up to five emerging student success initiatives at The University of Texas at Austin. Study 4 will extend the focus to student success initiatives taking place in a diverse set of postsecondary institutions across the U.S.
  • Studies 5, 6, 7, and 8 are mixed methods studies designed to fill gaps in the research literature on key factors such as disclosure of disability, accessible learning environments, transition and readiness for the workforce, and supports in their postsecondary setting that may affect the experience of PSWD in postsecondary settings. Study 5 will explore factors that predict levels of PSWD disclosure of disability and self-advocacy, with self-determination and campus accessibility as moderating effects. Study 6 focuses on understanding how instructor accessibility knowledge and mindset relate to decision making around instruction, accommodations, inclusion, and course design. Study 7 will focus on PSWD who were enrolled in postsecondary programs within the last 5 years (completers and non-completers) and examine their transition experiences from postsecondary training into the workplace. Study 8 will examine issues that institutional leaders face in supporting PSWD.
  • Studies 9 and 10 will be designed to allow for any necessary follow-up to the first eight studies.

National Leadership and Capacity-Building Activities: The Center's national leadership and capacity-building activities will be led, staffed, and informed by people with disabilities and those who are deeply connected with the disability community. Undergraduate and graduate students from intersectional backgrounds (e.g., first-generation college student, disability, race, gender) will be included in the research and capacity-building activities through mentorship experiences and internship experiences. Stakeholders, such as students, faculty, administrators, and researchers, will be invited to engage in dialog about study findings in cross-disciplinary town halls that bring people together to discuss key topics and issues central to the success of PSWD. The Center will design and disseminate accessible, relatable, and usable online resources and online learning opportunities via multiple platforms such as the Center's website and social media. A robust set of partnerships, including Advisory Networks and a Communications Network, will ensure Center findings reach intended audiences, such as PWSD, researchers, faculty, and administrators.

Outcomes/Products: The Center intends for its work to result in measurable gains for the field.

  • Comprehensive and actionable research results that identify factors at the individual, instructor, and institutional levels that support PSWD in program persistence, degree completion, and entry into the workforce.
  • Increased pipeline of researchers skilled in PSWD research through interdisciplinary training experiences for students, including those with disabilities and intersectional identities.
  • Accessible training materials and resources for researchers, instructors, and administrators to readily and effectively utilize research findings in their relevant settings.