Society & Culture

UGA education researcher to explore predictors of post-success for students with disabilities

Athens, Ga. – Recent forecasts indicate that the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs in the next 20 years will still require postsecondary education but they are more likely to require two-year technical education rather than four-year college degrees.

University of Georgia education researcher Jay W. Rojewski has received a $445,977 grant from the Institute of Education Science to study just how young people, particularly those with high-incidence disabilities,make their post-secondary educational choices and career paths.

Often, adolescents select from a very narrow and uniform pool of careers influenced by community, local school personnel and family. Sometimes, the greatest challenge to their success is the stigma society places on education that is not seen as preparing individuals for entry into a four-year college or university, said Rojewski, a professor in the College of Education’s department of workforce education, leadership, and social foundations.

Making these decisions is hard for all adolescents, but even harder for students with a learning or emotional/behavior disability. Understanding predictors of post-school success for students who have high-incidence disabilities is an important and understudied issue in special education, he said.

Rojewski will examine national longitudinal databases for theoretical and outcome-oriented perspectives of career-related issues related to the transition from school to work and adult life for adolescents with selected high-incidence disabilities.

The two-year project aims to extend recent research that has indicated specific factors affecting longitudinal changes in career aspirations before and after high school, and to determine predictive links between aspirations and postsecondary educational and occupational attainment for adolescents with high-incidence disabilities.

Researchers also will explore the influence of two school-based interventions, inclusion and career-technical education, on the career aspirations of individuals with high-incidence disabilities as they prepare for postsecondary education and work.

“It is a simple question, yet one we ask adolescents numerous times, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Yet my research over almost 20 years, as well as that of others, shows that young people’s responses to this question hold relatively stable throughout their adolescence and into young adulthood,” said Rojewski. “Specific occupational goals change but the prestige level (required education, probable income, status of expected job at age 30, etc.) does not for some adolescents. If this holds true, one implication is we must provide strong interventions that provide a lot of varied experiences, hands-on education and activities to provide opportunities for young people to understand the wide variety of job opportunities available to them.”

Rojewski will first try to determine whether theory and research conducted on students without disabilities are applicable to students with high-incidence disabilities. This will provide a starting point for determining how to structure interventions and transition from school to postsecondary education and from school to work experiences. Results of the project may contribute to a small but growing body of literature that can help guide program development, counseling interventions and individual reflection and decision-making for young people with high-incidence disabilities.

Noel Gregg, associate dean for research and a UGA Distinguished Research Professor in special education, is the co-principal investigator for the project.