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A Mixed Methods Exploration of Persistence in Postsecondary Education Among Young Adults with Disabilities or Learning Differences Open Access

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This study used a transformative, convergent mixed methods design, with a crossover analysis, to investigate the K-12 and postsecondary experiences young adults with disabilities perceive as influencing their persistence in postsecondary education. Thirteen young adults who were persisting in or had completed postsecondary education programs participated in this study. Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured interviews. Quantitative data were collected through a survey that included measures of demographics, high school experiences (based on the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition’s Predictor Implementation School/District Self-Assessment, 2015), self-determination (AIR Self-Determination Scale; Wolman, Campeau, Dubois, Mithaug, & Stolarski, 1994), and disability identification subscale (Nario-Redmond, Noel, & Fern, 2013). Qualitative findings suggested forty-one themes important to participants’ persistence. Specifically, eight facilitators and 11 challenges at the K-12 level, and 12 facilitators and 10 challenges at the postsecondary level emerged from the data. Participants’ experiences could also be categorized into four “transition profiles,” based on their experiences as they adjusted to their postsecondary programs: smooth, culture shock, huge leap, and smooth despite struggles. Quantitative findings revealed that participants reported strong academic achievement, high levels of self-determination, and neutral identification with a disability community. Self-determination and disability identification showed a statistically significant correlation. Integration of qualitative and quantitative findings occurred through the use of data matrices and multiple correspondence analysis (MCA), a multivariate technique that can be applied to categorical data. MCA was used to describe and display relationships among participant characteristics and emergent themes. Synthesis of qualitative, quantitative, integrated, and crossover results suggested five multidimensional findings: (a) current definitions of established high school predictors of postsecondary education participation are incomplete; (b) positive K-12 experiences do not necessarily lead to smooth transitions; (c) postsecondary experiences unique to students with disabilities and universal to all students are intertwined; (d) parents fill educational gaps in K-12 years and beyond, but support is complex; and (e) disability identification and self-determination are nuanced across transition profiles, disability characteristics, and gender. Through the lens of the transformative framework, implications of the findings for social justice and recommendations for policy, research, and practice are discussed.

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