Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Affairs and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Robert Peters

Second Advisor

Dr. David Hartmann

Third Advisor

Dr. James Leja


postsecondary education, higher education, disability access, college students, punctuated equilibrium theory, student identity development


Students with disabilities are entering postsecondary education at higher rates than ever before, but they are graduating at lower rates than their peers without disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act have made it possible for students with disabilities to avail themselves of services in higher education to maximize their potential. To implement laws and provide equal access to students with disclosed disabilities (SWDD), many higher education institutions use central offices to serve students with disabilities. The survey in this study collects information from disability office directors regarding services provided and office characteristics.

The purpose of this study is to learn which types of offices have characteristics that demonstrate the highest graduation rates for SWDD using statistical analysis, as well as review patterns in the data collected from the directors and retrieved from the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The patterns include consideration of the population size of SWDD; characteristics of offices in public versus private institutions; types and numbers of the following: policies and procedures instituted, data tracked, partnerships, and trainings; and documentation age and type.

There is a plethora of research on SWDD in higher education from the perspective of faculty members and SWDD; however, there is a dearth in the literature from the perspective of the directors and regarding office characteristics for disability services for students. This study, therefore, includes descriptive statistics and qualitative analysis relating to the characteristics and a Pearson’s correlation test that analyzes factors affecting graduation rates. There are 3,101 records of institution data retrieved from IPEDS with 153 useable survey responses. In this mixed method study, data available for statistical analysis is analyzed using bivariate Pearson correlation test. For other data, findings are sought using inferential, descriptive, and qualitative data analysis.

These data are considered through the theoretical frameworks of Student Identity Development Theory and Punctuated Equilibrium Theory. Student Identity Development Theory explains the holistic approach to documentation types and age or currency. Punctuated Equilibrium Theory explains the process of incrementalism and punctuated events in which many directors must operate when implementing changes.

Correlations are found in three variables. An increase in SWDD is negatively correlated to the 4-year graduation rates of SWDD. Institutions whose DSS offices have a student advisory council are positively correlated to the 4-year graduation rates of SWDD. Institutions with a disability studies major are negatively correlated to the 4-year graduation rates of SWDD. The study reveals differences between public and private institutions regarding the DSS offices. More public than private institutions have offices with strategic plans, priority registration, and track a larger number of a variety of data types. There are a larger number of SWDD enrolled in institutions in cities and suburbs as opposed to towns and rural institutions. Additionally, the study reveals that staffing in offices with smaller populations of SWDD is sufficient; whereas staffing in offices that have larger populations of SWDD is not sufficient to serve the increasing population.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access