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Information Brief

Addressing Trends and Developments in Secondary Education and Transition

October 2004 • Vol. 3, Issue 4


Social Security and Undergraduates with Disabilities: An Analysis of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey

By Hugh Berry, Megan A. Conway, and Kelly B.T. Chang

Introduction

Reducing dependence on cash assistance programs administered by the Social Security Administration, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI)* and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)**, and increasing economic independence through paid employment are key federal and state policy goals. The decline in employment rates for individuals with disabilities during the 1990s, a time of burgeoning economic growth, has underscored the need for improving both education and employment outcomes for students with disabilities (Burkhauser, Daley, & Houtenville, 2000). Compared to nondisabled persons of working age, individuals with disabilities are less likely to achieve a high school education, and even less likely to pursue postsecondary educational opportunities (Stodden, Dowrick, Gilmore, & Galloway, 2003). For young adults with disabilities, level of education is positively associated with employment even when controlling for factors such as severity of disability and SSI participation (Berry, 2000). Examining the characteristics of postsecondary students with disabilities, including SSDI and SSI participants, may therefore assist with the development of more effective policies aimed at increasing economic and social independence.

The purpose of this brief is to describe the characteristics of undergraduate students receiving SSDI and SSI benefits as they relate to issues of participation in postsecondary education and employment. Specifically, the brief describes results from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey (NPSAS, 2000) pertaining to undergraduate students with disabilities, with a focus on the differences between students with disabilities who receive SSI and SSDI and those who do not. The brief discusses those results and makes recommendations for research and practice.

* SSI provides cash assistance to eligible persons with disabilities, including children and youth less than 18 years of age, who cannot perform a substantial gainful activity (SGA) (they are unable to earn at least $800 per month).
** SSDI provides cash benefits to eligible persons who have worked (or whose parents have worked) and have paid into the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and have subsequently become disabled.

NPSAS 2000: What We Know About Undergraduates with Disabilities

The National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey (NPSAS, 2000) obtained information on 50,000 undergraduate students from 900 postsecondary institutions across the nation. The highlights and findings of this study are examined in brief to provide an understanding of SSDI and SSI participation in postsecondary education programs.

 

Table 1. Profile of Undergraduate Students With Disabilities During the 1999-2000 Academic Year

 

SSI Participants

SSDI Participants

Nonparticipants with Disabilities

 

Percent

(S.E.)

Percent

(S.E.)

Percent

(S.E.)

Sex

Female

53.3

(7.2)

55.7

(5.6)

59.1

(1.6)

Male

46.8

(7.2)

44.3

(5.6)

40.9

(1.6)

Race

White

62.9

(8.1)

74.7

(6.2)

77.1

(1.3)

African American

30.5

(7.7)

12.0

(3.7)

11.1

(1.0)

Other

6.7

(3.0)

13.4

(5.1)

11.8

(0.9)

Marital Status

Single, Never Married

44.1

(8.2)

37.9

(6.7)

57.0

(1.6)

Married

19.6

(6.5)

30.8

(6.5)

29.0

(1.3)

Other

36.4

(7.3)

31.3

(5.2)

13.9

(1.3)

Dependent Children

27.5

(6.3)

40.4

(6.1)

31.9

(1.3)

Single Parent

20.8

(5.9)

25.3

(5.2)

16.3

(1.1)

Institution Type

Four Year

23.3

(5.1)

30.4

(4.3)

42.3

(1.5)

Two Year

74.6

(5.2)

65.7

(4.5)

54.2

(1.6)

Less Than Two Year

2.1

(0.8)

3.9

(1.1)

3.5

(0.6)

Attendance Intensity

Full-Time

61.2

(7.8)

44.4

(6.0)

60.5

(1.7)

Half-Time

9.9

(4.1)

30.4

(7.3)

23.4

(1.4)

Less Than Half-Time

29.0

(7.4)

25.2

(6.9)

16.1

(1.4)

 

Years

 

Years

 

Years

 

Mean Age at Start of PSE

40.1

(2.8)

36.1

(1.4)

22.5

(0.3)

Mean Years for Delayed Enrollment

8.5

(1.6)

7.8

(1.2)

3.7

(0.2)

*Note: Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding.
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999-2000 Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS: 2000).

 

Table 2. Economic Profile of Undergraduate Students With Disabilities During the 1999-2000 Academic Year

 

SSI Participants

SSDI Participants

Nonparticipants with Disabilities

 

 

(S.E.)

 

(S.E.)

 

(S.E.)

Dependency Status

Percent Independent

81.2

(5.3)

89.3

(4.2)

61.8

(1.3)

Percent Dependent

18.7

(4.2)

10.8

(4.2)

38.2

(6.5)

Percent Receiving Loans

18.0

(4.6)

23.9

(4.2)

31.2

(1.4)

Percent Receiving Grants

55.4

(8.9)

48.6

(5.8)

47.1

(1.3)

*Note: Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding.
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999-2000 Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS: 2000).

 

Table 3. Financial Profile of Undergraduate Students With Disabilities During the 1999-2000 Academic Year

 

SSI Participants

SSDI Participants

Nonparticipants with Disabilities

Mean Total Loans During Year

---

---

$5,684

(477)

$5,867

(165)

Mean Total Borrowed as of 2000

$7,238

(1,765)

$11,529

(1,657)

$10,879

(378)

Mean Total Grants

$2,550

(469)

$2,830

(337)

$3,091

(116)

Mean Tuition and Fees

$1,906

(342)

$1,636

(193)

$2,906

(121)

Mean Student Adjusted Budget

$6,836

(773)

$7,577

(521)

$8,811

(194)

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999-2000 Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS: 2000).

 

Highlights

In general:

Differences between SSA participants and nonparticipants with disabilities:

Differences between SSI participants and SSDI participants:

Discussion

The similarities and differences among SSA program participants in postsecondary education settings warrant consideration, as they may relate to legislative and other efforts intending to promote postsecondary education completion and subsequent employment outcomes for persons with disabilities.

  1. Given that many SSDI participants had dependent children and/or were single parents, findings presented here suggest that many of these students may face substantial personal and family obligations that may compete with those of postsecondary studies. SSDI participants were also less likely to attend full-time than SSI participants and nonparticipants with disabilities, also suggesting that SSDI participants may experience challenges to degree attainment that extend beyond disability alone. On the other hand, the goals of individuals with disabilities receiving SSDI may not necessarily include achieving a degree. Rather, focusing on education and training that may enhance short-term employment opportunities may be a reasonable and urgent goal for parents with disabilities. While greater work earnings may open up with a four-year degree, the necessity of addressing immediate economic and family responsibilities may take precedence.
  2. SSI participants experienced higher levels of poverty and were less likely to receive loans than nonparticipants. They were also more often enrolled in postsecondary institutions with programs lasting two years or less, rather than four-year colleges or universities. To some extent, findings about economic circumstances of SSI participants may be influenced by program eligibility itself. That is, earnings and assets restrictions, in addition to the existence of severe disability, may define economic status and discourage loan or grant receipt. For example, if a student received a $512 monthly SSI payment, or $6,144 annually, she may avoid loans or grants that would jeopardize her continued eligibility for cash and health benefits. From this perspective, program eligibility restrictions may inadvertently discourage increased attendance and degree attainment.
  3. The late age of enrollment of SSI participants may suggest that few youth (i.e., under 18 years) who are SSA participants succeed in gaining access to postsecondary education within a year after exiting high school. Indeed, many high school students with disabilities, including SSI participants, fail to achieve a 12th-grade education (U.S. Department of Education, 2002b; Berry, 2000). This may be due, in part, to essential differences in the SSI child and youth population when compared to adult participants. That is, 63% of children and youth receiving SSI benefits have some type of mental disorder, and more than half of these are diagnosed with mental retardation (Pickett, 2002). While SSA and NPSAS disability categories are not directly comparable, it is also interesting that persons with orthopedic impairments represented the largest disability category for both SSI and SSDI undergraduates in this study.

Delayed enrollment in postsecondary education is a significant issue for undergraduates with disabilities as a whole (Horn & Berktold, 1999), and improving access to and retention in postsecondary education for SSA program participants must be addressed if positive employment outcomes and economic independence for individuals with disabilities are to be realized. Including high school students in Social Security work/educational incentives – for example, a paid work-study program – should not be ignored as a means of providing students with career guidance and opportunities to explore self-support. Professionals, parents, and students should also identify postsecondary goals early in the high school Individualized Education Program (IEP) process to give students opportunities to explore academic and work opportunities in secondary school that will help them meet their postsecondary goals.

Recommendations

SSA programs can provide students with much-needed financial support. Rather than discouraging students with disabilities from participating in SSA, there is a need to provide them with more information about financial aid options and SSA work/education incentive programs. For example, students may need assistance in accessing the financial support that SSA and postsecondary financial aid programs offer while seeking to obtain a postsecondary degree and become gainfully employed.

It is also evident that further research is needed in order to investigate discrepancies in SSA program and postsecondary education participation. Specifically:

In summary, social security benefits serve a two-fold purpose to people with disabilities—providing assistance to those in need, while also reducing their need for assistance. Postsecondary education may be an effective middle ground for these purposes, and is often the key to better employment outcomes. While postsecondary students with disabilities are in need of financial assistance, they are also improving their odds of financial independence. Effective ways to improve postsecondary education participation for SSA recipients must be studied and optimized in order to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of SSA programs.

References

Berry, H. G. (2000, Fall). The Supplemental Security Income Program and employment for young adults with disabilities: An analysis of the National Health Interview Survey on Disability. Focus On Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 15(3). Retrieved August 4, 2006, from http://www.worksupport.com/Main/proed8.asp

Burkhauser, R. V., Daly, M. C., & Houtenville, A. J. (2000). How working age people with disabilities fared over the 1990s business cycle. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Horn, L., & Berktold, J. (1999). Students with disabilities in postsecondary education: A profile of preparation, participation, and outcomes. Retrieved August 4, 2006, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/quarterly/vol_1/1_3/4-esq13-a.asp

Pickett, C. (2002). Children receiving SSI – December 2000. Retrieved October 12, 2004 from http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/statcomps/ssi_children/2000/dec/

Stodden, R. A., Dowrick, P. W., Gilmore, S., & Galloway, L. (2003). A review of secondary school factors influencing postschool outcomes for youth with disabilities. Retrieved October 28, 2003, from http://www.rrtc.hawaii.edu/documents/products/phase1/043-H01.pdf

U.S. Department of Education (2002a). National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: Data Analysis System. Retrieved April 12, 2003, from http://www.nces.ed.gov/surveys/npsas/das.asp

Resources

Social Security Administration http://www.ssa.gov/
Social Security Administration Handbook http://www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityresearch/redbook.htm

Hugh Berry is with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education; Megan A. Conway and Kelly B.T. Chang are with the Center on Disability Studies at the University of Hawaii.


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