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Abstract

Postsecondary education provides an opportunity to increase the economic potential of individuals. Earnings for individuals with cognitive disabilities are a major concern, as occupational outcomes are often dire. The prevalence of individuals with cognitive disabilities in postsecondary education settings is increasing, but little is known about how postsecondary attendance may relate to post-graduation earnings for this population. This article presents findings from the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey on the prevalence of individuals with cognitive disabilities who have attended various levels of postsecondary education and a series of linear regressions identifies the relationship between varying degrees and earnings while controlling for age, sex, race, ethnicity, public support systems, weeks worked each year, and hours worked each week. Results indicated that some college without a degree (14.815%), an associate’s degree (35.831%), a bachelor’s degree (68.267%), and advanced degrees (106.063%) all provide substantial earnings increases over individuals who received a high school degree or less. Findings include policy and practice implications to improve supports and services to increase access to postsecondary education for individuals with cognitive disabilities.

Plain Language Summary

Colleges and universities are an opportunity for people to gain valuable skills and increase the likelihood of employment and higher earnings after graduation. Opportunities are expanding for individuals with disabilities in higher education. Because of these opportunities, people with cognitive disabilities are enrolling in colleges and universities across the United States and are earning a variety of different degrees. The people who enter into education after high school are earning more money after graduation than people who enter into a job immediately after high school. For example, this study predicts that someone with a cognitive disability who earns a bachelors’ degree can earn 68% more than a similar person who finished their education after high school. This study will provide students and family members with information about predicted earnings after graduation that can help them make decisions about whether or not to pursue further education. Colleges and universities should consider providing more opportunity to people with cognitive disabilities in the future.

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