Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Christopher B. Newman, PhD, Co-chair; Maya Kalyanpur, PhD, Co-chair; Afsaneh Nahavandi, PhD, Member; Pamela J. Starr, PhD, Member


disabilities, transition, higher education


Since the inception of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, there has been a steady increase in the enrollment of students with disabilities in higher education. With the postsecondary transition in educational supports from the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) in high school to ADA in college, there has been a lack of research related to the experiences of these students with disabilities while they are in college. Considering the changes in disability experience resulting from education policy changes from high school (IDEA) to college (ADA/Section 504), the purpose of this study was to examine the experiences of first-year students with disabilities at four-year higher education institutions. This study utilized components from Disability Studies in Education approach, Disability Critical Race Studies (DisCrit), Acculturation, and Diverse Learning Environment frameworks in analyzing first-year students with disabilities’ experiences. Using a mixed-methods approach to investigate both attitudes and perceptions, the researcher conducted a survey of 63 students representing five colleges and focus group interviews with 43 students representing three colleges. Findings indicate that first-year students with disabilities are assimilating into the mainstream non-disabled culture in higher education. First-year students with disabilities heavily rely on adult’s (parents or disability service personnel) knowledge in educational decision making. Additionally, the findings also highlight the impact of fee-based, specialized disability programs on first-year student experiences and perceptions of campus climate. This study contributes to the understanding of the conditions that support and challenge the higher education experiences of first-year students with disabilities. The findings also highlight a need for more research examining a broader range of disability categories and the intersection of disability and race.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies