The MCPER Evaluation Team has joined a new initiative, funded by a $5 million federal grant from the Institute for Education Sciences, to create the first actionable research foundation to support disabled student experiences and achievement after high school.
The National Disability Center for Student Success was launched in August and is housed at the Texas Center for Equity Promotion within the UT Austin College of Education. The new center provides research and strategies to help colleges, universities, and training centers build their capacity to support millions of disabled students through improving participation in higher education programs, boosting degree completion, and increasing workforce readiness.
MCPER Senior Associate Director Greg Roberts serves as co-principal investigator and director of evaluation of the new center. Roberts also serves on the leadership team alongside Principal Investigator and Executive Director Stephanie W. Cawthon, a MCPER board member and professor at the College of Education.
“I am thrilled to be collaborating with Dr. Cawthon on this important initiative,” Roberts said. “The National Disability Center aligns with many of our goals at MCPER, particularly leveraging high-quality research to improve student and educator outcomes, creating a culture of collaboration and transparency, and disseminating findings in a way that promotes positive change.”
Roberts’ MCPER colleagues Anna-Mari Fall, Kim Rodriguez, and Adah Barenburg have joined him to assist with the evaluation project and add expertise in large-scale data analysis.
“It’s transformative for our research teams and partners to have Dr. Roberts and his Evaluation Team’s expertise and insights,” Cawthon said. “As we work to shift the ways disability is perceived and experienced on college campuses, the Evaluation Team is our partner in the process, working with us through every issue and opportunity.”
This 5-year award is the second-largest Institute of Education Sciences grant in UT Austin’s history; the largest is MCPER’s award for the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative, which funded many projects nationwide, including Promoting Adolescents’ Comprehension of Text.
The first research priority for the National Disability Center is to create a rigorous new research measure of perceived campus accessibility—an essential step to help determine demographic predictors and the relationship to disabled student outcomes—by focusing on the core issues of accessibility, disclosure, student supports, institutional culture, and student outcomes.
About the Disabled Student Experience
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 27% of adults have at least one type of disability. This means that more than 4 million college students in the United States have a disability, including apparent disabilities, such as using crutches, and nonapparent disabilities, such as autism or depression. Studies show that these students face barriers that make them less likely to persist in their studies, graduate with degrees, and achieve their career goals.
Studies also show that disabled students find colleges and universities to be unwelcoming and unaccommodating. They report encountering high levels of ableism, discrimination, and bullying, and these experiences are one of the key reasons they do not disclose their disabilities—making it harder for higher education to understand the true scope of the issue and provide the necessary support.