College and Career Readiness for Students with Disabilities

Wed, 08/03/2016 - 10:49 -- Yughi Kim

This post refers to the report “Improving College and Career Readiness for Students with Disabilities” and discusses how instructors may use CRAs to promote college and career readiness for students with disabilities.  


Students with disabilities account for a small percentage of all students in higher education. Although the Higher Education Opportunities Act in 2008 provided vast opportunities for students with disabilities to attend college and universities, researchers report that high school students with disabilities are less likely to pursue higher education or to graduate compare to their peers without disabilities (Murray, Goldstein, Nourse, & Edgar, 2000). Moreover, tracking five years after high school graduation, researchers found that over 80 percent of students with disabilities did not graduate from college (Wessel, Jones, Markle, & Westfall, 2009). Although factors that led to such outcomes may vary, these research studies agreed that students with disabilities had difficulties finding a good education setting that matches with them, surviving through the traditional K-12 grading system, and writing college entrance exams like SAT and ACT. Altogether, navigating through the intricate and complex education system and reaching towards educational and professional goals are challenges for students with disabilities and further demand adequate support.

College Readiness Competencies

Conley (2007) defined the following four major components for college readiness in his paper, “Redefining College Readiness”: 1) key cognitive strategies, 2) academic knowledge and skills, 3) academic behaviors, and 4) contextual skills and awareness. A few factors of key cognitive strategies are presenting intellectual curiosity for deeper understanding and problem-solving skills, being able to analyze data, and providing well-reasoned arguments. Academic knowledge and skills refer to writing and researching in academic areas of Math, English, Science, Social Studies, and the arts. Academic behavior suggests students’ awareness of mastery or need of improvement on academic areas; also, it includes students’ abilities to work independently and manage time. The final component explains how students manage a college application system, including admissions requirements and processes. These are the skills that every student needs to be prepared for college and career. Admittedly, students with significant disabilities are challenged with achieving the listed college readiness competencies. This is why the CRAfT team recommends that high school instructors adequately modify and use the CRAfT resources to serve their students depending on students’ type and severity of disabilities. Individualized CRAs can better prepare students for the cognitive strategies, knowledge, behaviors, skills, and awareness they will need not only in their lives but also in academic setting. It is crucial that we do not leave out this student population.

Career Readiness Competencies

The States’ Career Skill Cluster Initiative (2008) Essential Knowledge and Skill Statements define career competencies as problem-solving skills such as settling issues or conflicts with colleagues and/or customers and managing work performance, utilizing technology such as e-mail and databases, demonstrating leadership abilities, team work, and ethics, and promoting career development such as developing career interests and goals. For students with learning disabilities, these may not be the skills that can be directly learned. Therefore, we strongly encourage instructors to use the CRAfT resources along with job shadowing, mentoring and training to encourage the students to acquire these career readiness competencies.

Recommendations for Practice

Practice: Establish the clear definition of college and career readiness.

Students with disabilities desire to attend college and universities and enroll in college-level courses. However, they often believe that they are unable to compete with students without disabilities. Schools often assign students with disabilities in remedial classes and do not expect them to continue towards higher education. Moreover, administrators, teachers, counselors, and families work with a lack of knowledge and understanding of capabilities and competencies of this student population. Furthermore, there are not enough effective educational programs and interventions that encourage students’ college and career readiness. Altogether, it contributes to low aspirations for students with disabilities (Brand, Valent, & Danielson, 2013).

Research shows that instructors can help students with disabilities to acquire a higher level of confidence and aspiration that they can pursue higher education. Brand, Valent, and Danielson (2013) suggest that instructors should include the students with disabilities in class and encourage them to interact with non-disabled peers. Also, they must establish a concrete definition of college and career readiness and express similar expectation for both students with and without disabilities. The rationale behind these strategies is that students with disabilities do not want to be treated any different from their non-disabled peers. Therefore, it is remember to respect, include, and set high expectation for students with disabilities in order to prepare them for college and career.   

One of the important definitions of college and career readiness that the CRAfT team adopted is the acquisition and development of skills such as critical thinking and analysis rather than the mastery of content knowledge. Particularly for students with disabilities, we want to encourage school, community, students, and parents to develop such a concrete and effective definition, set specific goals for individuals, utilize CRAs, and help students to acquire the cognitive skills they need for college and career. Moreover, we strongly encourage instructors to use CRAs with high expectations and acknowledgment of the interests, goals, and abilities for students with disabilities. By doing so, students will communicate high expectations and be better equipped for college and career.


Practice: Plan early.

The transition from high school to college or work is a big jump for students with disabilities. Many high school students with disabilities may or may not have support and guidance from parents, family, and peers in regards to college and career planning. Students who plan their college or career goals early, have related resources and opportunities, and are able to build critical skills are far more likely to attend college or find a career than students who do not do so. In addition, it is extremely important that students are informed and exposed to various pathways to college and career as early as possible. We encourage instructors to utilize CRAs early on to make learning more engaging, effective, and relevant and discover the best of students’ abilities.


Practice: Reduce the gap between K-12 and college and/or career.

One of the goals of the CRAfT project is to address the misalignment that currently exists between high school and college. One of many ways to better connect their K-12 and college lives is a dual-enrollment program. In fact, it is a great example that can help students with disabilities to earn college credits and learn about the expectation of college. For example, OnRamps is a program at The University of Texas at Austin that aims to encourage diverse student population to engage in college-level courses and promote their college success. The CRAfT team collaborates with OnRamps program to provide access to prompt college and career readiness and alignment between K-12 and higher education systems. We heard great successful testimonials from instructors in regards to addressing the misalignment between high school and college through the OnRamps program. We continue to promote dual enrollment for students and provide technical assistance on implementing effective dual-enrollment programs in order to offer opportunities for students to be exposed to both K-12 and higher education setting, mitigate fear about attending college, communicate high expectation, and set specific academic and career goals.

Final Note

It is important that instructors stay open-minded and communicate high expectations with their students. By modifying and individualizing CRAs for students with disabilities, instructors can encourage students to develop key cognitive skills such as critical thinking, analysis, time management, problem-solving, and overcome academic and personal challenges.



Brand, B., Valent, A., & Danielson, L. (2013). Improving college and career readiness for students with disabilities. Washington, DC: College and Career Readiness and Success Center, American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

Conley, D. T. (2007). Redefining college readiness. Eugene, OR: Educational Policy Improvement Center

Murray, C., Goldstein, D. E., Nourse, S., & Edgar, E. (2000). The postsecondary school attendance and completion rates of high school graduates with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 15(3), 119-127.

State Careers Cluster Initiative (2008). States’ career cluster initiative: Essential knowledge and skill statements. Retrieved from

Wessel, R. D., Jones, J. A., Markle, L., & Westfall, C. (2009). Retention and Graduation of Students with Disabilities: Facilitating Student Success. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability21(3), 116-125.