Self-Determination Skills and Student Persistence

Getzel, E.E., & Thoma, C.A. (2008). Experiences of College Students With Disabilities and the Importance of Self-Determination in Higher Education Settings. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 31(2), 77-84.


The authors in the article “Experiences of College Students With Disabilities and the Importance of Self-Determination in Higher Education Settings” (Getzel & Thoma, 2008), explore the impact that self-determination skills have on students with disabilities in higher education. In the article, self-determination is defined as “being able to advocate for what you need, understanding your disability and how it impacts your learning, having self-confidence, being independent, and adjusting your schedule to make sure things get done” (p. 79).


Participants were chosen to be part a focus group, based on whether they were currently receiving disability support services, and were identified by the disability support services (DSS) office, as having self-determination skills. Researchers were intentional in selecting participants who had already demonstrated these skills, as they wanted to ensure their skills were somewhat similar to one another.

In the sample, there were 34 students total. Their ages ranged from 18 to 48 years. There were 18 females and 16 males. Participants came from various, although limited cultural backgrounds, with 21 Caucasian, 12 African American and 1 Asian. The disability groups represented in the sample, included 2 visually impaired, 8 orthopedic disability, 13 other health impaired, and 2 emotional disturbances.

Focus groups were organized at six different locations across Virginia. Three were community colleges and three were colleges or universities (2- and 4-Year).


Researchers used a semi-structured interview process, and focus group assignments. Focus groups were chosen due to the small group size, which allowed for a more personal, social and intimate experience. In addition, focus groups allow the researchers more flexibility to address issues as they arise. Demographic information was also collected and a summary was developed.

As part of the testing process, participants were asked two primary questions. They were,

  1. “What do you think an effective advocate does to ensure he or she stays in school and gets the support needed” (p.80)?
  2. “What advocacy or self-determination skills do you think are absolutely essential to staying in college and getting the supports you need” (p.81)?


Data analyses were performed on the notes provided by the scribes. Results of the study indicate that participants feel self-determination skills were critical to their success in transitioning into a higher education setting.

The results of question number 1 above indicated that “focus group participants clearly identified self-determination as important to their success in postsecondary education” (p. 80). Reasons given for their decisions were primarily based on participants not self-identifying their disability, or advocating for themselves, failing, and then requesting the support services that they need.

The areas identified as most critical with regards to question number 1 were as follows:

Problem solving – Defined as the ability to think about and solve a problem, prioritizing ones time, and focusing on and achieving success.

Self-awareness – Defined as learning about oneself, developing core competency skills, increasing self-understanding, and self-determination. It’s important to note that learning of one’s disability was particularly important.

Goal setting – Participants reported the importance of setting realistic short- and long-term goals as a critical part of their success.

Self-Management – Defined as one’s ability to organize and plan ahead. In the context of disability services, self-management was particularly important for scheduling classes, allowing time for studying and completing assignments, and planning ahead on assignments that may take longer to complete.

The results of questions number 2 above indicate that participants felt strongly that it was important for “(a) seeking services from the DSS office and college services available to all students; (b) forming relationships with professors and instructors; (c) developing support systems on campus with friends, support groups, and the DSS office; and (d) gaining a self-awareness and understanding of themselves to persevere” (p. 81).

The areas identified as most critical with regards to question number 2 were as follows:

Seeking services on campus – Participants emphasized the importance of academic support services and resources on campus. Of particular note was the DSS office, writing center, math lab, and participation in study sessions.

Developing support systems on campus – Developing friendship and peer networks, seeking out other support staff, and participating in student groups, support groups, and other social networks.

Forming Relationships with Professors and Instructors – Defined as developing critical relationships with professors, meeting with professors on a regular basis, and actively seeking help from professors.

Self-awareness – In the context of question number 2, participants discussed the importance of developing critical skills and behaviors, being aware of their strengths, as well as their limitations, and focusing on their success.

Limitations / Recommendations:

There were a number of limitations with this study, including, limited sample size, limited ethnic diversity, and limited disability diversity. Additionally, participants were identified by DSS staff who believed participants already possessed self-determination skills, so selection was, in part, subjective to the biases of DSS staff. As with any focus group interview process, the authors also note that bias may also be inherent in that participants may report what they feel the interviewer wants to hear, and not necessarily what they truly feel.

Application to my own Action Research / Discussion:

Over the past few weeks, I have struggled with the idea of mentoring in higher education. Mentoring is not new to higher education, which makes the application, as part of original research, more challenging. However, the idea of looking at self-determination as a skill, and students applying self-determination as a learning outcome, has helped narrow the construct of what the mentoring program might look like.

Access, excellence and impact are critical ideals to student success. As a guide, they help frame the work that we do, as well as the high expectations of the academic standard we hold students accountable to. In looking ahead to applying my action research in my community of practice, I want to be mindful of the impact that self-determination skills can have on all students, but particularly students with disabilities.


Getzel, E.E., & Thoma, C.A. (2008). Experiences of College Students With Disabilities and the Importance of Self-Determination in Higher Education Settings. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 31(2), 77-84.


There’s no crying in research

Several years ago, while working as the assistant director of the Disability Resource Center (DRC), I met with a student regarding a particular accessibility issue. This student was a male, African American, senior, who was a returning veteran, and had a hidden disability (psychiatric disability). The student had expressed some frustration regarding access to one of his classes, and that he was having challenges with one of his instructors. As I listened to his story, I felt it appropriate to try and remain as objective as possible, in order to best advise this student, and eventually the instructor. My goal was to be as neutral in the process as possible. However, as we discussed the particulars of his concerns, I sensed a real disconnect between myself and the student. Sensing that this disconnect was related to my being detached emotionally, I shifted to a more personal approach.

In an attempt to make the conversation more meaningful, I related a story that involved my brother. This story was similar to his own, as my brother, too, had a disability. I expressed the frustration that my brother had felt and experienced during a particular time in his educational pursuits, and the anger that resulted with our family. In doing so, I introduced an emotional and human element to this student’s experience, and could sense, almost immediately, a drastic shift in his trust of me as a participant in that experience.

As researchers, we are taught to be objective when doing observations. In doing so, we lessen the likelihood that our own experiences, feeling, opinions, and cultural identities bias the results of the study. In this week’s reading, author Renato Rosaldo (1993), argues that complete, detached objectivity distorts the true context of the work we are doing, and does not accurately reflect the places and people that we are observing.

In framing the argument, the author notes, “arguably, human feelings and human failings provide as much insight for social analysis as subjecting oneself to the “manly” ordeals of self-discipline that constitute science as a vocation. Why narrow one’s vision to a God’s-eye view from on high? Why not use a wider spectrum of less heroic, but equally insightful, analytical positions” (Rosaldo, 1993, p.173)?

The author gave an example of ethnographer, Jean Briggs, who embedded herself in an Eskimo village as a way to study the people. In her book “Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family”, author Jean Briggs (1970), describes the experiences and the challenges of her own emotional journey. In her book, Briggs introspectively explores her own identity and emotional struggles, which impacted her ability to connect with the people in a meaningful way.

Rosaldo describes her experience by saying, “in conducting her field work, she did not try and elevate herself to the dignified heights of science as a vocation. Instead she used her own feelings, particularly depression, frustration, rage and humiliation,” (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 176). The author goes on further to say that “although the choice was originally her own, Briggs found herself overwhelmed by an alien world. In response to emotional and physical deprivation, she sought consolation through food, and even went so far as to hoard eight sesame seeds in tin foil. The ethnographer was held prisoner, not by the Eskimos but by her determination to succeed in doing fieldwork under demanding conditions” (Rosaldo, 1993, p.177).

While I may never experience the harsh conditions that Jean Briggs experienced among the Eskimo tribe, there is great wisdom in acknowledging the emotional introspection of that journey, and the impact it had on her ability to effectively connect with the very people she was observing. As I look ahead to my own action research, particularly in ensuring access, excellence, and impact through mentoring, I want to be mindful of that balance of my own emotions and attachment to the student participants, and frame my life experience in that process in a way that creates trust among those that I will be working with. Only through doing so, will I be able to truly represent an accurate reflection of the impact of my research.

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture & Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Briggs, J. (1970). Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

College Persistence…Mentoring Matters

Bordes-Edgar, V., Arredondo, P., Kurpius, S.R., & Rund, J. (2011). A Longitudinal Analysis of Latina/o Students’ Academic Persistence. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 10(4), 358-368.


It has previously been shown that there is positive correlation between student success and participation in mentoring programs in higher education (Salas, Aragon, Alandejani, & Timpson, 2014; Bordes and Arredondo, 2005). In the article “A Longitudinal Analysis of Latina/o Students’ Academic Persistence” authors Bordes-Edgar, Arredondo, Kurpius, & Rund (2011), use data from a longitudinal study to determine what factors might impact student persistence in higher education, and then re-examine the actual impact of those same factors 4.5 years later. The factors examined included decision making, self-efficacy, mentoring, value of education, family valuing of education, perceived social support (family and friends), and academic factors (including entrance exam scores, high school GPA, and college GPA).


Participants in the survey were Latina/o students from a southwestern university. In the original study, there were 112 1st-semester, freshman students. Of those 112 students, 76 students (20 men and 56 women) agreed to be part a follow-up study. Of the 76 students who were part of the follow-up, twenty-one (6 men and 15 women) were still enrolled, 25 (4 men and 21 women) had graduated, 25 (8 men and 17 women) had dropped out, and 5 were withdrawn for academic reasons. It should be noted that those who were withdrawn for academic reason, were not included in the final sample.


After receiving consent from each of the participants, researchers accessed student data on all participants involved in the study. Based on admission data gathered, participants were grouped into one of four separate categories. The categories were “graduated, enrolled, dropped-out, and academically withdrawn” (p.361).

The original survey included demographic information and self-report measures. In both the original survey, as well as the follow-up survey, there were several instruments (scales) used to measure correlation of various factors to student success, including, student decision making, self-efficacy, mentoring, value of education, family valuing of education, perceived social support (family and friends), and academic factors (including entrance exam scores, high school GPA, and college GPA). Correlation was determined using Cronbach’s alpha test.


Results of the study indicate that students who persisted from the initial survey to the second part of the survey (4.5 years later), received more mentoring, made more positive persistence decisions during the initial phase of the survey (i.e., valued education, had positive self-belief in their own ability, received positive social support), and had a higher high school GPA.

Social support from friends was initially a strong predictor of persistence with the freshman. As it turned out, the importance of social support from friends was shown to diminish over time, and students had to rely on other forms of social support (i.e., mentoring), to be successful.

It was noted in the article that students who are isolated from friends, are more likely to drop out of college. The strongest correlation for social support as it relates to student success and persistence, came from mentoring, in which students who graduated perceived that mentoring was a critical reason for their success.

It should be noted that the authors examined the racial/ethnic background of the mentors to see whether having a Latina/o mentor made a difference in persistence. Results of the study indicate that there were no differences found.

Limitations / Recommendations:

As it pertains to my own action research, the most notable limitation in this study, is that it focused on Latina/o students. For my own research, I wish to expand to include first-generation, low-income and students with disabilities. Other limitations include a small sample size, and that most participants were of Mexican origin, so generalizability to other Latina/o groups may be limited. In addition, there were significantly more women than men in the study. I am not sure whether this would have a direct effect of the outcome, but is worth noting and examining in future action research.

Application to my own Action Research / Discussion:

The most telling result of the study, is that the initial connection that we have with students is the most important in helping students to be successful. The initial self-beliefs of students is a strong indicator of future success. Therefore, mentors that are very intentional in how they establish that relationship with students during their freshman year will be critical to the students future success. For example, having the mentors develop and build student self-efficacy.

As it relates to social support, we might assume that social support from friends will increase the likelihood of student success. Results actually show that the importance of friend support diminishes over time. Establishing that social relationship with a mentor during the initial phase of a student’s college career will be important.

It was noted in the article that development of partnerships between high schools and colleges were critical, as student success in high school is a strong predictor of their success in college. As it pertains to mentoring, high school staff could work with college staff in making arrangements to mentoring assignments to happen prior to students start in college. As noted in the article “If students have a mentor at the beginning of their college career, they are more likely to succeed” (p.365). In looking at future action research, explore how ASU might partner with high schools to better prepare students to transition, help those working with high school students understand the importance of having a strong GPA in high school (as a predictor of college success), and establishing mentoring relationship early in their admission to the university.

It has been shown that mentoring has a positive impact on whether college students are successful. At Arizona State University, I have seen the impact that mentoring has had on student success. While the survey focused on Latina/o students, I believe the mentoring component could be applied to any at-risk student group. The student groups that I wish do my own action research include first-generation, low-income and students with disabilities.


Bordes-Edgar, V., Arredondo, P., Kurpius, S.R., & Rund, J. (2011). A Longitudinal Analysis of Latina/o Students’ Academic Persistence. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 10(4), 358-368.

Bordes, V., & Arredondo, P. (2005). Mentoring and 1st-year Latina/o college students. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 4, 114-133.

Perceptions of a 9-year-old

When I was 9-years-old, my older brother had a basketball game against a team from the Ute Indian Reservation, located in northern Utah. Up to that point in my young life, I had never before been to the Indian Reservation. As we were driving to the game, I distinctly recall thinking about what the opposing team’s players and fans would be like, and how the reservation and school would look like. I won’t lie, I imagined that they would all be dressed in traditional Native American costumes, complete with feathers, while the cheerleaders beat on drums. Clearly, my 9-year-old view of Native American culture was in need of expansion.

In the article, “Race Ethnicity and Education”, author Tara Yosso (2005), explores the idea that race and ethnicity is not simply about the color of a person’s skin, black or white, colored or not. She speaks to the value of experience as cultural wealth. Cultural wealth is gained, in part, through the experiences that people of color have gained through their communities, home life, and interactions with others, whether good or bad. Cultural capital creates a more complete view of who that person is, and how we, as educators, can best engage them in the educational process.

Historically, communities of color have been viewed from a deficits model within education. This model views students who come from communities of color as lacking resources, or that they are disadvantaged. The author notes that this is one of the most prevalent forms of racism within our school system, in that it “takes the position that minority students and families are at fault for poor academic performance because: (a) students enter school without the normative cultural knowledge and skills; and (b) parents neither value nor support their child’s education” (p.75). When viewing race and culture through this two-dimensional lens, we limit our understanding of the experiences that make people who they are, particularly their ability “to experience, respond to, and resist racism and other forms of oppression” (p.72).

In broadening our lens, the author discussed different forms of capital that adds to the overall cultural wealth of people of color. Each form of capital is based on different experiences that people of color gain in their life, and includes, aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial and resistant capital. In the educational context, each form speaks to the experiences that students of color bring with them to their educational experience, and how their experiences have shaped who they are.

As an educator, I feel very strongly about looking at students holistically. While I will never be able to fully understand the experiences that people of color have had, it is through engaging them in their own experiences, and how those experiences create their own cultural wealth, that we are able to most effectively help students be successful in their educational pursuits.

I don’t recall anything about the basketball game, or even who won. However, my young 9-year-old view of Native American’s, was forever changed that evening. As we entered the gymnasium, I noticed something that I was not expecting. The players, fans, families, referees, coaches, scoreboard operators, ushers, and even the cheerleaders, acted and looked, just like we did, other than a different color of skin.

As a family, we discussed perceptions and misperceptions, assumptions and misassumptions. But it was my mother’s view that changed how I view others, particularly people of color. She taught me that it wasn’t about treating people the same, for in treating others the same, we miss the characteristics, qualities and HISTORY that make them unique.


Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, (8)1, 69-91.


Impact of Mentoring on Student Retention

Salas, R., Aragon, Aragon, A., Alandejani, J., & Timpson, W.M. (2014). Mentoring Experiences and Latina/o University Student Persistence. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 1-14.


In the article “Mentoring Experiences and Latina/o University Student Persistence” (Salas, et al), the authors examined the experiences of Latina/o students who participated in a college mentoring program. The study was designed to look at the overall experiences of students who participated in the program, and evaluate to what extent the experience contributed to their academic success and persistence.


Participants were chosen from a list of current or former mentors. Out of the initial 30 students that were identified as possible candidates, 17 agreed to participate. There were 9 female and 8 male participants. Two of the 17 reported health and family issues, and chose not to participate. Of the 15 remaining, 12 students were from in-state, and 3 were from out-of-state. All participants were either currently serving, or who had previously served as a mentor.

The study took place at a land grant institution in a mountain west state. The institutions minority make-up was as follows – Ethnic minority for all university (13.6%), Latina/o (6.9%), Asian American (3.1%), African American (2.3%), and Native American (1.5%).


Testing consisted interviews, conducted in two rounds with each participant, with a follow up interview 3 to 4 weeks later. The study explored the following questions:

  1. “What meanings did Latina/o students ascribe to their experience in the university mentoring program?”
  2. “How did these students experience their academic program at the university?”
  3. “What effect did participation in the mentoring program have on their persistence?”
  4. “Were there common experiences, stories told, and/or factors that these Latina/o students described as participants in the mentoring program?” (p. 4)

Analysis of the interview was done using an Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which explored individual experiences of the participants and other factors that they identified as contributing to their success. More specifically, the study was to determine, to what extent, Latina/o students were able to transition to college successfully, get involved in leadership opportunities, engage with academic and cultural activities and resources, and persist.


For the most part, participants consistently reported that their participation in the mentoring program helped them to be successful. Participants were better able to navigate the collegiate experience, increase knowledge and appreciation for other cultures, improve time management and time management skills, build relationships, and learn about the various resources available at the college. There were three main themes that were identified as a result of the interviews, (1) common challenges (i.e., being a first-generation student), (2) culture shock, and (3) financial issues. Some other common themes included:

  • Lack of diversity at the university (47%)
  • Financial and time management issues (88%)
  • Feeling a lack of belonging (94%)
  • Out of state issues (18%)
  • Multicultural / biracial issues (18%)

Almost 41% of the participants indicated that the program provided them “with a sense of family and, community, which encouraged them to do better.” (p.8). A very small percentage of students expressed that they felt college was easy ( 6%).

Other common factors included

  • Feeling overwhelmed as they transitioned to the college environment
  • Concerns regarding campus climate
  • Discrimination / perceived discrimination

One of the participants reported the following experience:

“My overall experiences in the mentoring program were very, very positive. It was great to establish relationships with like-minded people, people who had the same values, people who were often academically focused, people who were also involved on campus…it got to give me some positive role models to look up [to]…” (p.8)

Limitations / Recommendations:

  • Study participants were the mentors. Would the results have been any different had the participants not been the mentors? Were they successful because they were mentors, or were they mentors because they were successful?
  • Limited sample size of 15
  • Sample focused exclusively on Latina/o students
  • How might this research be applied to other populations (i.e., students with disabilities, other ethnic / racial groups)?
  • How might a mentor program benefit low-income students?
  • What were the mentors doing that was so effective?

Application to my own Action Research:

A couple of years ago, we created a program at the ASU Downtown campus in which staff, within Educational Outreach and Student Services, were each assigned a freshman floor at our residence hall, Taylor Place. The goal of the initiative was to develop a meaningful connection / relationship with each student as a way of fostering personal and academic growth, and helping students be successful by connecting them to critical academic support services and resources.

More recently, we have considered a more targeted approach with freshman who have challenges beyond just being first-time freshman. These challenges include being a first-generation, low-income, and/or student with a disability. We are also looking at students that enter the university with a low confidence interval (CI) score.

Over the past two semesters, we have seen some good results and have been able to build meaningful relationships with students that we believe will help students be successful and persist throughout their academic careers. Other than academic success (i.e., grades and whether or not students persist from one year to the next), we do not currently have a more effective way of measuring whether our efforts are impacting students. More specifically, we do not have an effective way to measure which factors are most effective (i.e., 1:1 meetings, encouraging participation in activities and events, connecting students to resources and other services, time and financial management, etc.).

An area which I feel we are lacking in our current approach, and in which I shall explore through action research, is the viability of a freshman mentorship program at ASU. Over the past two semesters, we have seen some success, students are persisting, yet concerns about fully engaging students in a meaningful way remain.

Every student that comes into higher education is unique. They each bring their own values, identities, academic foundation for learning, as well as their own limitations. Mentoring has been shown to effective in bridging the gap. By exploring the viability and effectiveness of a mentoring program at ASU, we will be able to determine not only the general impact, but more specifically, which factors most effectively impact the students we will be focusing on.


Salas, R., Aragon, A., Alandejani, J., & Timpson, W.M. (2014). Mentoring Experiences and Latina/o University Student Persistence. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 1-14.

The Future of Arizona is in Our Hands…and Theirs

“As nonindigenous scholars seeking a dialogue with indigenous scholars, we (Denzin and Lincoln) must construct stories that are embedded in the landscapes through which we travel” (Denzin, Lincoln, & Smith, p.6).

Highlighted in “Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks” (Liou, Antrop-Gonazalez, & Cooper, 2009), is the importance of the critical relationships that exists between marginalized students (i.e., minority students) and those that support and guide them (i.e., teachers, guidance counselors, advisors, parents, religious leaders, peers, etc.). In the article, the authors correlate those relationships to the academic success of students. In order for that relationship to impact student success, “these relationships are predicated on teachers who are not only passionate about their content areas, but who are also passionate about their students and continuously strive to know their students, their families, and their communities well” (p. 542).

As noted, teachers are an important part of young people’s lives. However, not all critical relationships come from within the school system. Some of the most critical and enduring relationships are formed outside of school, through peer-to-peer groups, church groups, and family members. Through these relationships, students increase their likelihood of being successful. In one particular case, the authors noted that students often achieved success in their academics as a direct result of specific connections that they had developed to a religious organization and/or other extra-curricular activities. Students who participated in the study spoke to the benefit of participating in activities outside of the classroom “which steered them away from antischool, oppositional youth culture like gang membership and truancy” (p. 542).

According to the US Census Bureau (2012), Hispanic or Latinos comprise 30.2% of the Arizona state population, which is nearly double the percentage for the Hispanic or Latino population in the United States (US Census Bureau, 2012). As such, Arizona will continue to be challenged in meeting the needs of all students, but in particularly, in preparing students to meet the demands of the future. In order to most effectively do this, we must leverage our most valuable resource and commodity, which are the people who live in Arizona. Future preparation begins by preparing the younger generation of today. As minority populations quickly become the majority, it will be even more important in breaking down the barriers that prevent minorities from accessing higher education.

I have seen first-hand the impact that a caring teacher can have on a student’s ability to be successful. That success not only translates to the ability to progress in their educational pursuits, but also transcends education, and helps position them for success in life. Helping students build personal self-esteem, have confidence in their ability, and take pride in their culture, language and heritage, are all critical elements to success. The more we empower students by giving access to information and resources, the more we create a foundation upon which their success will be built.

As an action researcher, being aware of my own biases and limitations when conducting research, particularly as it relates to marginalized, indigenous, minority individuals and groups, will be critical to my ability to represent the story accurately.

While the quote at the beginning noted specifically the role of the authors, I would argue that we (as researchers, practitioners, and members of society) each insert ourselves in the construction of those stories embedded in our own journey.


Denzin, N.K., Lincoln, Y.S., & Smith, L.T. (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Liou, D.D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, 45, 534-555.

US Census Bureau (2012) Arizona Quick Facts. Retrieved June 6, 2014 from

Students with Disabilities — Factors Impacting First-to-Second-Year Persistence

Mamiseishvili, K., & Koch, L.C. (2010). First-to-Second-Year Persistence of Students With Disabilities in Postsecondary Institutions in the United States. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 54(2), 93-105.


In the article “First-to-Second-Year Persistence of Students With Disabilities in Postsecondary Institutions in the United States”, authors Mamiseishvili and Koch (2010), explore factors that influence persistency for students from first-to-second-year in college, as well as risk factors that lead to attrition, in students with disabilities. While enrollment of students with disabilities has remained steady, by enacting greater protection to students with disabilities, through the passing of disability legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, it is anticipated that postsecondary institutions will see an increase in the number of students with disabilities that enroll in the years ahead.

For their study, the authors used data from the “Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study” survey (p. 95). The data set was varied and included transfer students, persisters, stopouts and dropouts, as well as vocational completers. Participants were interviewed to determine who fit the criteria for the survey.

The sample size of the study for students with disabilities was 1910 students. Appropriate weighting measures were used to account for oversampling from the original BPS sample data set. The average age of the sample participants was 24 years.

The researchers did a good job considering different variables and characteristics, including – students who transferred to other institutions of higher education, background characteristics such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, type of disability, first-generation student status, as well as high school GPA. Additionally, characteristics of being a college student were also take into consideration, which included first-year GPA, intensity of the academic program, remediation, housing status, degree aspirations, academic integration, social integration, price of attendance, and first institution level.


There were several tests that were used to measure whether significant associations existed. The authors used Pearson’s chi-square tests to determine if there was a significant association with those that received disability-related services and those that persisted. Testing showed that there was a significant association, in that students with disabilities who received academic support services were more likely to persist from first-year-to-second-year. The highest association was for students who received a course substitution or waiver, note taking services, testing readers and / or scribes. Chi-square testing also showed a significant association with those who participated in academic and social activities. Specific activities included, meeting informally with the instructor, attending study groups, and discussing academic matters with the instructor and advisor outside of the classroom. Testing showed that students with disabilities who actively participated in academic and social activities were more likely to persist from first-year-to-second-year.

In addition to the chi-square testing, a logistic regression analysis was also conducted, looking at factors which influenced first-to-second-year persistence. Significant predictors for persisting from first-to-second-year were discovered. The variables that stood out the most in being associated with the likelihood of persisting were – being female and black, female (compared to males), African American (compared to white) – all increased likelihood of persisting from first to second year.

The authors considered a number of risk factors directly related, in addition to several theories pertaining to retention, and tested for variables to ensure that they were looking at relevant factors. The sample for their research consisted of students with various disabilities, including “(a) any sensory impairment, such as blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment, (b) any mobility impairment substantially restricting students’ basic physical activities, or (c) any other mental, emotional, or learning condition limiting students’ ability to learn, remember, and concentrate.” (p. 95).


The findings indicate that students with disabilities persist from first-to-second-year at a rate of 76.4%. There were discrepancies that existed between various disability groups, with students who have learning disabilities / dyslexia persisting at a rate of 85.7% (as the highest), and students with other conditions not specified persisting at a rate of 64.3% (as the lowest). Additionally, they found that specific accommodations and services were also correlated to a higher rate of persistence. Namely, students who received course substitutions, course waivers, readers, note takers, scribes, and students who participated in academic and social activities, as accommodations, saw a higher rate of persistency.

Limitations / Recommendations:

  • No consideration for physical accessibility of the campus
  • No consideration as to whether students utilized counseling services
  • Study examined persistence across ALL higher education, rather than a specific institution.
  • Limited variables (3) for examining social integration.
  • Explore similarities or differences between students with disabilities compared to students without disabilities.
  • Explore similarities or differences between 4-year, and 2-year institutions.
  • Explore factors that might impede or facilitate persistence to graduation.

Application to my own Action Research:

There were several acknowledged limitations in this study, and as such, an opportunity, to explore these limitations / factors, that may exist, moving forward in my own action research. At Arizona State University, we have a great relationship and partnership with our counseling services office. We partner extensively in support of student success. I wish to explore that relationship and the impact that it may have on persistence.

There is a great opportunity to explore the relationship that the Disability Resource Center has with each of the academic colleges. How might that relationship translate into creating factors which increase persistence, and to what extent already existing support services (i.e., Student Success Center, tutoring services, the Writing Center, utilization of assistive technology located in the Information Commons, etc.) impact the rate of persistence in students with disabilities.

Finally, I wish to explore the similarities and differences that may exist between students with disabilities, and those that do not have a disability.

I see great application in not only looking at other factors that may exist in my own research, exploring ways of increasing the likelihood that students with disabilities will persist at ASU, but also in improving the services that either already exist, or should be established in support of student success. Overall, I felt the article was well written, and has great relevance in higher education today.


Mamiseishvili, K., & Koch, L.C. (2010). First-to-Second-Year Persistence of Students With Disabilities in Postsecondary Institutions in the United States. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 54(2), 93-105.


Who We Are…Culture and Education

In the article, “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Reflection” by Tyrone Howard (2003), the author argues that in order for teachers to be most effective in teaching culturally diverse populations, they must first go through their own critical, self-reflection, with regards to their own cultural identity, and how that identity is reflected in their teaching style.

In addition to experience, education, training and a specific skill set(s), teachers also bring into the classroom their own cultural values, and cultural identity. According to Howard, teachers must “reflect on their own racial and cultural identities and to recognize how these identities coexist with the cultural compositions of their students” (p. 196). Only when teachers have an understanding of their own cultural identity, can they create a learning environment best suited for their students. Howard goes on to say “Effective reflection of race within diverse culture requires teachers to engage in one of the more difficult processes for all individuals – honest self-reflection and critique of their own thoughts and behaviors” (p. 198).

This was a powerful statement as I began to reflect on my own culture, and the how my cultural identity impacts me as an action researcher.

Having been raised in a predominantly Caucasian, affluent community, I have often thought back on how my own upbringing shaped my attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts regarding race, ethnicity and my own cultural values. As I now consider my own cultural identity, I wonder how that identity influences my ability to effectively, or ineffectively, engage students in the work that I do.

While I am not a teacher in the classroom context, I am an educator. As such, I can see how this information might also apply in my own work with students in higher education. While the aim of the article is primarily from the context of ethnicity, language and race, I wonder, to what extent, more subtle cultural contexts also play into the development of cultural identity. For example, how they were parented, the community where they grew up and the values that their community espoused.

Recently, I had the opportunity of working with a student who had been caught smoking marijuana. As I met with the student, and learned more about the context for why they made the decisions that they did, I learned that their family dynamic and community culture, partially formed the basis for their decision making process. The student was from a state where marijuana was legal. The student’s parents smoked marijuana in their home, and allowed their children to smoke at a young age. In her small community, it was common place to smoke socially.

While this situation does not fall into the cultural categories indicated in the article, I believe it raises further questions as to what other values and cultural identities should be considered when engaging with students in the work that we do.

Understanding my own cultural identity, and how that identity was reflected in those conversations with this particular student, impacted my ability to connect with and understand the cultural context for which this student came from, and ultimately my ability to engage the student in a meaningful way. In looking ahead to my own area of research, I wish to explore how meaningful conversations, programs, resources, and targeted outreach efforts improve retention in already at-risk students. Namely, low income, first generation, and students with disabilities.

While Howard focused primarily on the educational process and self-reflection of teachers and teacher educators with regards cultural relevance, I would suggest that those who work with students outside of the classroom, might also benefit greatly from critical reflection with regards to their own cultural identity and values.


Howard, T.C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Theory Into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.