The number of students with disabilities accessing higher education continues to increase, yet persistence and graduation rates for this population of students are considerably lower than those of students without disabilities. Previous research suggests that a key factor in improving post-secondary outcomes is increasing the level with which students engage in educationally purposeful activities on college campuses. It is with this in mind that this study set out to examine the connection between disability type and student engagement using data from the 2009-2010 administration of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).
Four purposes guided this study. First, this study aimed to build a profile of students with disabilities at baccalaureate higher education institutions. The second purpose was to determine whether the four disability categories (sensory, mobility, learning, and mental) identified in The College Student Report relate to responses to questions in the five NSSE benchmarks of effective educational practice (Level of Academic Challenge, Active and Collaborative Learning, Student-Faculty Interaction, Enriching Educational Experiences, Supportive Campus Environment), as well as institutional enrollment size. The third purpose was to determine how well disability category, age, gender, race/ethnicity, and enrollment size of the institution predicted student engagement for part-time and full-time, first-year students. The final purpose was to examine how well disability category, age, gender, race/ethnicity, and enrollment size of the institution predicted student engagement for part-time and full-time, senior-level students. The samples consisted of 361 part-time and 5,927 full-time, first-year students, as well as 1,197 part-time and 6,016 full-time, senior-level students with disabilities at four-year baccalaureate higher education institutions.
Pearson correlation analyses results indicated that relationships did exist between the disability categories, institutional enrollment size and student engagement for all samples in this study. The relationships uncovered were weak in strength, and mixed in direction.
Multiple regression results were significant for all samples besides first-year, part-time students at the p = .01 level. Regression results for full-time, first-year students showed that the sensory disability category, mental disability category, age, gender, and institutional enrollment size significantly contributed to the model. In the case of part-time, senior-level students, results indicated that the regression model including the mental disability category, gender, and institutional enrollment size was significant in predicting student engagement. For full-time, senior-level students, the regression model containing mental disability category, gender, age, institutional enrollment size, African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Other race was significant in predicting student engagement of students with disabilities. Yet, these models only accounted for between 1.9% - 4.5% of the variance in student engagement. Due to the relationships uncovered, this study has implications for practice and future research in the quest to gain understanding of the experiences of students with disabilities in higher education.