Individuals with intellectual disabilities who attend postsecondary programs are finding greater success in the job market than those who do not pursue further education, a new study suggests.

Graduates of postsecondary programs reported higher rates of employment since completing high school, according to findings published online this month in the Journal of Intellectual Disabilities. The research offers support for a growing number of programs at colleges and universities specifically geared toward young adults with developmental disabilities.

For the study, researchers interviewed administrators and surveyed 34 graduates from two postsecondary programs — one focused on providing supports so students can participate in typical college classes and the other offering a more specialized program just for those with disabilities. Researchers asked about the work experiences of the graduates who completed postsecondary programs between 2011 and 2013.

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The graduates’ experiences were then compared to data from the federally-funded National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 on the post-high school outcomes of individuals with intellectual disabilities who did not attend postsecondary programs.

Researchers found “steep gains” for individuals in both the specialized and inclusive postsecondary offerings.

Slightly over half of those who did not seek additional education after high school said they had been employed in the last two years. By comparison, roughly 9 in 10 of those who graduated from a postsecondary program reported that they had worked outside their home or former school in the same time period.

“There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that (postsecondary education) programs for individuals with (intellectual disabilities) are highly effective as a means to increase employment rates for such individuals,” wrote Eric J. Moore of the University of Tennessee and Amy Schelling of Grand Valley State University in their findings. “Such data can and should be used to encourage further propagation of (postsecondary) programs for individuals with IDs and provides justification for pilot programs of similar kinds in countries wherein (postsecondary) programs have not yet been made available for individuals with IDs.”

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