Academic Integration Among College Students with Disabilities and the Effect of Time to Program Completion
by Toby Tomlinson Baker
It is the researcher’s working theory that three variables affect the academic integration of students with disabilities (SWD) and will predict how the variables contribute to the amount of time of the completion of SWDs to complete college programs. While there are other variables of academic integration, three have been determined to have the most effect on the time to complete college, including time to completion, disability status and academic integration (Clark, Middleton, Nguyen, & Zwick, 2014). It is noted that there are two important integration concepts: academic and social integration, which are associated, yet different. This study examines the relationship between academic integration, as created by Vincent Tinto (Clark et al., 2014) and time to completion among SWDs. While many SWDs complete undergraduate degree programs and go on to Masters and Doctoral level programs, including law school, which could justifiably take longer to complete, this study focuses solely on SWDs in undergraduate degree programs with a focus to earn Associate or Bachelor of Arts degrees. When the researcher examines secondary data, it is predicted that those who exhibit persistence, as described by Tinto, will complete their degrees in fewer years than those who did not meet the criteria for academic integration (Clark et al., 2014).
Academic integration among college students with disabilities (SWD) is affected by significant factors, which include each student’s disability status and the effect of time to program completion. There are two types of integration; academic and social, which have been created and developed by Tinto (Chapman & Pascarella, 1983). Tinto points out that student integration into a college or institution can occur along two dimensions; the first, academic integration which occurs when students become attached to the intellectual life of the college, while social integration occurs when students create relationships and connections outside of the classroom (Chapman & Pascarella, 1983). These two concepts, though analytically distinct, interact with and enhance one another. Furthermore, while students must be immersed into the institution along both elements to increase their likelihood of persistence, they need not be equally integrated along the two (Chapman & Pascarella, 1983). Additionally. Tinto justifies that there are both formal and informal systems within institutions that can motivate integration and persistence.
The elements of academic integration greatly contribute to the overall academic success of college students with learning disabilities, as they directly impact the amount of time spent in an academic program of study (Brinckerhoff & And, 1992). A Specific Learning Disability (SLD) is defined as a condition giving rise to difficulties in acquiring knowledge and skills to the level expected of those of the same age, especially when not associated with a physical handicap (Department of Defense Education Activity, n.d.). Since learning disabilities are directly linked to cognitive ability and acquiring knowledge, students who have disabilities often demonstrate delays in academic processing (Wei, Christiano, Yu, Wagner, & Spiker, 2015). Moreover, growth trajectories among this population show that reaching academic goals takes a longer amount of time to achieve, interfering with the ability to become upwardly mobile in society (Wei et al., 2015).
Review of Relevant Literature
College SWDs who demonstrate academic integration by adamantly seeking and receiving accommodations and counseling, ultimately have a quicker completion rate in their academic programs (Lester & Nusbaum 2017). Furthermore, since SWDs may need additional time to complete academic tasks, it follows that their entire program may take a longer amount of time to complete. Colleges and universities should increase focus and attention to details of both academic and social programs, to ensure that the overall experience for the SWDs is merged (Korinek & Popp, 1997). Moreover, by finding a college or institution with characteristics that strengthen the student’s overall college experience with suitable programs, educators are better equipped to meet each student’s academic and social needs (Chapman & Pascarella, 1983). Based on Tinto’s model, by influencing each student’s experience with on-campus academic and social integration, the commitment level of these students to graduate from college is heightened (Chapman & Pascarella, 1983).
The academic commitment of SWD’s is needed throughout their time spent in a college program. Borglum and Kubala (2000) studied college SWD’s and found that more than half of them intended to spend up to four years at a college and spent 10 hours per week studying for their courses (Borglum & Kubala, 2000). These 10 hours are in addition to the variables which the researcher has targeted. Lester and Nusbaum (2017) confirm that SLD’s in higher education often exhibit greater levels of academic activity in order to overcome adversity, thus displaying intense fervor. Academic and social integration have been demonstrated to increase student’s satisfaction in college, academic growth and personal development (Stage, 1989).
Since there are academic barriers in college which hinder those with disabilities, it is pivotal to provide meaningful support, or scaffolding, in the critical areas of their academic needs (Jorgensen, Budd, Fichten, Nguyen & Havel, 2018). College students with disabilities need to recognize that there are challenges presented by the educational system; therefore, they need a plan to address these challenges and be proactive in overcoming such barriers (Pallisera, Fullana, Puyalto, & Vila, 2016). SWD’s are entering college and participating in higher education at a higher rate (Cawthon & Cole, 2010). These factors inhibit many college SWD’s’ ability to access the proper assistance which they need to succeed in college. Student advocacy and active engagement in receiving tutoring and accommodations should be monitored by adults assisting these students, but mainly by the students themselves. Educators, parents, and counselors share a responsibility to educate all students equally by law (Rein, 2018).
Tinto created the Academic and Social integration framework which has been utilized to measure student persistence in college (Mannan, 2007). It is affirmed that both academic and social integration should merge for SWDs to be successful and complete a college program. Yet, if one of these types of integration, academic or social, overpowers the other, it has been proven that the stronger type will compensate for the more fragile type of integration (Mannan, 2007). Since Tinto’s model has been implemented, colleges have increased student support services. These on-campus support services may be academic or social services, intentionally provided by these colleges to increase student persistence, with the intention of increasing student awareness and use. Questions arise regarding the structure and utility of these academic and social services, particularly if they lack demonstration of effectiveness among SWDs (Clark et al., 2014).
As demonstrated in (Wagner, And, & SRI International 1993; West Chester University, 2018; Wilczenski & Gillespie-Silver, 1992), academic performance was examined between SWD’s who entered college programs compared with the performance and progress of their nondisabled peers. The link between the direct focus of each student’s academic subjects and additional support, including tutoring and teacher advisory, on each student’s specific area of academic need, results in evidence of student retention, higher tests scores, and a higher GPA (DuPaul, Pinho et al., 2017). Certain SWDs may need an even greater amount of time during tutoring and advisory to exhibit retention of academic material; therefore, students with learning disabilities may extend beyond the designated minutes in this study. For example, perhaps a student with a learning disability needs six hours of tutoring, rather than a strict limit of three hours before they understand a topic or academic concept. There is a possibility that SWDs must forfeit time in other areas of their lives to maximize their own academic opportunity (DuPaul, Pinho et al., 2017). This concept is quite contrary to Tinto’s model, overall process and social development theory (Clark et al., 2014). Moreover, each SWD has his or her own trajectory and developmental path in order to reach the goal of graduation or completion of their program (DuPaul, Pinho et al., 2017).
Shaw and And (1989) and Shokoohi-Yekta and Kavale (1994) examined performance levels of SWD and their nondisabled peers, with a focus on math scores, particularly college entrance examinations such as the American College Testing exam, (ACT). SWD’s earned lower test scores in academic core subjects (Shokoohi-Yekta &Kavale, 1994). Jorgensen et al. (2003) and Lamberg (2012) focus their studies on the results and graduation rates of students with learning disabilities which were similar to those students without learning disabilities. Students who attended to academic tasks within their program and received appropriate assistance throughout their years in the program demonstrated as much success as their nondisabled peers (Jorgensen et al., 2003; Lamberg, 2012). Resulting from this type of academic integration is that college students with learning disabilities exhibit strict attention to academic tasks and are receptive and unwavering in receiving assistance and accommodations, in order to demonstrate their ability and progress toward graduation. These measures aid in reducing or even eliminating delayed graduation (Hakkarainen, Holopainen, & Savolainen, 2016).
In a study by DuPaul, Dahlstrom-Hakki et al., (2017), the academic progress of students with learning disabilities and ADHD was followed during a five-year period. It was found that of all of the SWD’s on campus who received academic support services, the final grades and GPA’s of students with ADHD actually surpassed those with other types of learning disabilities. By strategically targeting each student’s specific area of academic need, there is a significant probability that their academic goals will be met (DuPaul, Dahlstrom-Hakki et al., 2017). It is noted that this study’s particular focus is not specifically targeted on the higher GPA of college students with learning disabilities, even though it may be an indirect result of the study.
During a transition to college, academic barriers can impede many students with learning disabilities’ capability to flourish, or even to perform. Brinckerhoff and And (1992) suggest transitioning skills and appropriate academic accommodations needed for SWDs and suggest approaches to gain access, acceptable college preparation and programs to assist and support these students. Cawthon and Cole (2010) have stressed the importance of checklists and accommodations during college testing, particularly prior to and during the transition to college. Without these academic supports, students may not fully master and demonstrate performance at their full capacity (Cawthon & Cole, 2010).
Challenges that Affect Academic Integration
There are additional aspects to consider when measuring time to completion in relation to SWDs. These students’ individual disabilities affect each of their academic needs, requiring more attention, assistance, and direct explicit instruction, which ultimately results in taking more time to complete (Hurks & van Loosbroek, 2014). This includes SWDs who may need to drop a class in order to have more time available to focus on the remaining three courses. The researcher takes into account that even though the level of academic material covered in each of the courses may be difficult for the SWDs, their level of academic integration is dependent on their ability to overcome adversity. It is acknowledged that SWDs can participate and make up dropped classes during off-track semester coursework terms, such as summer terms.
Current Statistics and Graduation Rate
Graduation is the ultimate goal of SWDs. A recent study compared two groups of college students with disabilities. The group of students who had just learning disabilities had more intent to graduate than the group with other disabilities (Jorgensen, Budd, Fichten, & Havel, 2018). Jorgensen and her colleagues (2018) demonstrated how, even though the needs and accommodations of the students with learning disabilities vary, this population of students with learning disabilities demonstrated proactive measures towards graduating, such as choosing a major, enrolling in and for classes consistently, attending classes, advocating to professors and advisors, and actively registering for disability services (Jorgensen et al., 2018). These findings align with the researcher’s thesis and hypothesis since they demonstrate this population’s success in persevering toward completing college in a timely manner.
According to Troiano, Liefeld, and Trachtenberg (2010), 68% of those students who participated consistently in the services of the Learning Resource Center were more likely to graduate from the college when compared to those who did not. This evidence confirms how effective academic support and resource centers are in the success of SWDs. In this study based on attendance and graduation rates, it was predicted that SWDs who actively attended the academic support center had higher overall grade point averages and higher rates of graduation (Troiano et al., 2010). Even though there is evidence of betterment in this population, there are still factors regarding graduation which need to be addressed. Recommendations include minimizing the fear of stigmatization, engaging in stress-reducing activities and adopting a model where accommodations are based on students’ unique needs rather than their diagnoses (Jorgensen et al., 2018). The uncertainty of post-graduation inhibits students’ success and personal contribution to the world. College students with disabilities and their families expressed concern of their possible inability to be successful in future jobs and careers, to live independently, and to be able to contribute to society as a purposeful member (Pallisera et al., 2016). SWDs who obtain a college degree improve employment outcomes and overall quality of life (Mamiseishvili & Koch, 2011).
Gerdes & Mallinckrodt (1994) base their study on SWDs who leave college or exit college early, known as “Leavers” and compare their reasons for leaving with those who remain on college campuses, known as “Persisters.” These two groups represent SWDs who are successful or able to continue in their studies, versus those SWDs who choose to leave college and universities due to negative experiences or face internal or external factors. The college campus and university environment, particularly academic and social support services, governs the outcome of whether an SWD becomes a “leaver” or a “persister” (Gerdes & Mallinckrodt,1994). This affects the outcome of the amount of time SWDs show in relation to time to completion. Bers and Smith (1991) examine how the university environment contributes to the steady persistence of SWDs. Academic and social integration are strong motivators for SWDs to persist at a university. Concepts of academic and social integration suggest that a student’s decisions to stay or leave an institution are influenced by the level of connection that they have developed with the institution. When SWDs evaluate their reasons for leaving, they should revisit their initial connection to the university. Questions regarding the student’s level of intent to persist in the college program should be carefully considered. If SWDs are demonstrating academic and social success at a university, initial motivators should be reinforced to spark further interest in attendance (Bers & Smith, 1991).
Significance of the Study
The significance of this study is that it will add to the literature concerning effective measures to foster success at the college level for SWDs who have been left to drift in college. Moreover, SWDs must accept a certain amount of self-responsibility by utilizing the supports that are in place and taking advantage of them. The concept of academic integration greatly impacts SWDs through enhancement of their completion time of college programs. It is the researcher’s hope to positively influence SWDs to enroll and attend college, graduate and advance toward higher education (Cawthon & Cole, 2010). The population of students should not be deterred from the prospect of academics, simply as a result of their disability (Cawthon & Cole, 2010). This study stimulates further research and contributes by determining the cumulative effect of academic integration or whether any of the factors of academic integration has more weight in the outcome of completing a college degree in a timely manner.
Areas of Further Research/Empirical Research Questions
Research in special education, particularly in the area of college SWDs, demands more attention. The scarcity of collected data corroborates the necessity for further study. The apparent gaps in professional literature regarding college students with learning disabilities signify how there are still questions unanswered. Further questions could be researched as individual topics. The following empirical research questions may be addressed:
- Does medication contribute to success in college completion in relation to time?
- Do students with disabilities demonstrate higher social integration as opposed to academic integration?
- Does transferring from community college after two years of attendance to a four-school college affect the academic progress towards completion?
- Does the award of scholarships (academic, sports, arts), in conjunction with time in a specific academic program influence academic progress towards completion of a four-year program for students with disabilities?
Research Methodology and Design
The Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study
The researcher will utilize available data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2018) database to evaluate the academic progress of SWDs on a national level. Specifically, the researcher will utilize the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study (NCES, n.d.). Moreover, BPS follows students who are enrolled in their first year of postsecondary education and collects data on the various activity of their programs, the transition to employment, demographic characteristics and student changes overtime (Hurst & Smerdon, 2000).
Academic Integration, which is tested, valid, and an already existing variable, and time to completion among SWD’s. The Dependent Variable (DV) is time to completion and this study aims to perform a correlation, and regression. Both of these statistical techniques require a linear, continuously measured dependent variable. The Independent variables are disability status and academic integration and there is an interaction between these two variables. Academic integration will be measured in a 4-items scale as a continuous variable (Mamiseishvili & Koch, 2011), and disability status is a categorical variable with six categories (learning, orthopedic, other, visual, hearing, and speech) (Hurst, 2000). The theoretical model is based on previous research which is explained in the literature review. For instance, DaDeppo (2009) investigated the academic integration impact on students with learning disabilities (DaDeppo, 2009). Moreover, the creator of Academic Integration, Tinto (Mannan, 2007) examines the two main types of integration: academic and social. As demonstrated by the emergence of intellectual growth and development, in conjunction with social relationships and bonds among collegiate groups, SWD’s experience academic and social integration (Mamiseishvili & Koch, 2011). Tinto’s created theory and model further explain how formal and informal methods of integration exist in the college arena.
A Linear Regression model also called a regression, will be utilized to analyze the data (Privitera, 2017). It is predicted that there is a positive correlation between a student’s academic integration, disability status, and time of completing school. After gathering data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to find the correlation coefficient of the linear regression. The prediction of the value of the outcome variable which is the time of completion will be determined by calculating the slope of the linear model. Further, the researcher will determine the possible correlation between outcome and predictor variables. The researcher will compute the coefficient of the regression line (Privitera, 2017). The value of these variables is to be determined and known once the study is carried out. The number of predictors will be included in the linear model of this study must be verified. For one predictor variable, researchers intend to use a linear regression. Yet, for two or more predictor variables, the researcher intends to use multiple regression (Privitera, 2017). For this study, since there are two predictors the best statistical model is a multiple regression model.
The predicted multiple linear model for this study is as follows:
In this linear model, there are two predictors which are located on the right side of the equation. One is entitled “academic integration” and the other is entitled “disability status,” which is shown by “ ” in this equation. The outcome of this linear model is “months to complete,” which is measured by the amount of time it takes a student with disabilities to complete an academic college program.
The researcher will determine the slope of the linear model ( , ) through analysis of the regression model to predict the value of outcome variable ( ) after discovering the predictors ( and ). In other words, if the researcher finds a correlation between each of the predictors and the outcome, she will continue her analysis to determine the exact values of , to determine the unknown values in the linear model. This potential model can help school administrators to predict the year of completion for each student with learning disabilities through measuring their perseverance.
Multiple Linear Regression
Upon examining the collected data, the researcher will test the hypothesis of the research. If this were the correlation between the three variables of this study, then the researcher will delve into the collected data to discover the Pearson Correlation coefficient of the regression line. Furthermore, the linear model explains the relationship between the dependent variable the independent variable for this research (Privitera, 2017). The researcher will utilize the multiple linear regression to find the linear relationship between predictors and outcome. Since the outcome is a continuous variable measured in months, and the predictors are categorical variables, the best statistical model to analyze the data will be in a linear regression analysis.
Based on the researcher’s hypothesis, the data will be a Multiple linear regression which investigates the linear relationship between the three variables of the research. The Multiple linear regression model demonstrates how the time of completing college is related to academic integration and disability status. These methods were chosen because the researcher is interested in predicting the dependent variable (the year of completion of a college program) with knowing the academic integration of each SWD. Since this study hinges on simply three variables, it follows logic to employ the Multiple Linear Regression model. The researcher plans on examining data to test the hypothesis.
The first step after gathering data from NCES will be entering data into a spreadsheet to define the variables of the research, which will be calculated by adding up three independent variables: academic integration, time to completion, and each student’s disability status. The next step is to find the correlation between these two variables. Upon conducting the correlation analysis, the researcher will determine the correlation coefficient of the research variables. Upon discovering the positive or negative significant correlation between the variables, the data will be analyzed. More analysis will be done to determine the multiple linear relationship between the three variables. Upon finding a protentional linear regression line, the researcher would estimate the coefficient, and recommendations will be made to school administrators and parents. This facilitates the path towards timely graduation for students with disabilities. Since the scope of this study is a correlational and a nonexperimental study, there are no participants needed to complete this research. The IRB regulations and intervention are immaterial, as are the experiences of participants and they are not manipulated. Secondary data will be examined and implemented for this study, without the primary intervention of the researcher. The researcher is observing and examining the past behavior of participants through the NCES database.
Although students with disabilities have cognitive processing delays (Wei et al., 2015), by incorporating academic integration based on Tinto’s model (Clark et al., 2014), this population can flourish in college and other academic and social settings, thus minimizing their time to completion and maximizing their academic growth and social development.
SWDs have difficulties with academic integration, particularly with academics, upon graduating from high school and entering a college setting, as the transition is taxing. Even taking into consideration their growth trajectories (longer period of time to complete academic tasks and plans), this specific population needs academic and social integration in order to achieve their academic goals successfully. As academic and social integration influence time of program completion, often with measures such as tutoring, university programs, additional assistance, guidance, and counseling, SWDs will be able to complete college programs in a timely manner. SWDs demonstrate a desire to adequately contribute to society and become upwardly mobile along-side their nondisabled peers (Wei et al., 2015). Academic and social integration aids in this process by reducing anxiety and fear, as it allows students with disabilities to demonstrate their abilities, complete competitive academic college programs, and allows them to have control over their future. While the actual analysis has yet to be performed, it is expected that SWDs who exhibited higher levels of academic integration, will have completed their postsecondary programs, more rapidly relative to their peers with lower levels of academic and social integration.
The academic integration examined throughout this study adds strength to the current research. SWDs need to have academic and social integration in order to endure these aspects of their college experience. Moreover, these students will complete the programs allowing them to enter the workforce and contribute to society within a satisfactory timeframe. Even though each SWDs have different trajectories and different academic and social needs, these SWDs may have the ability to finish college programs. In a society where having a college degree often measures success, SWDs will have the chance to demonstrate success in an equal manner as those without disabilities. This success will be comparable with their nondisabled peers, thus making SWDs competitive in the job market and in an equal position of power.
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