There is no time greater than during a recession to consider the truth behind the phrase “education matters.” This is especially important for people with autism and other disabilities that, even in a “good economy,” have a difficult time finding employment. Why does post-secondary education and training matter?
Post-secondary education and training matter for three reasons. First, it protects an individual against unemployment in general. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for all workers in 2011 was about 8%. However, as shown in Table 1: Unemployment Rate in Percentages (2011), the reader can see a direct relationship between education and unemployment. As one’s level of education and training increases, one’s rate of unemployment decreases. For individuals with less than a high school diploma the unemployment rate reached almost 14% in 2011. Individuals who earn a high school diploma reduce the risk of unemployment by over 40%. Even taking a single college course or two reduces the odds of unemployment. If a person is capable of earning an associate degree, he or she reduces her unemployment risk by 25% over a person who merely completes a high school degree and cuts the risk of unemployment by half over someone who has not completed high school.
Second, post-secondary education and training used to have a second protective factor. Not only did education protect from unemployment in general, but it also affected the length of time one was unemployed. The more education and training a person had, the less time he or she would remain unemployed. Recent data suggest, however, that once one is unemployed for a considerable length of time, then level of educational attainment no longer offers a protective factor (Aliprantis, & Zenker, 2011, p.12). This recent phenomena underscores the importance of receiving postsecondary education and training to prevent unemployment.
Third, the amount of education and training one has also affects his or her lifetime earnings. According to Julian (2012) a person who drops out of school by the 8th grade can expect to make a little over $900,000 between the ages of 25-65 (known as synthetic work life, which assumes continuous employment between those ages), (See Table 2: Education and Lifetime Earnings). The individual doubles his or her lifetime earnings by earning an associate degree and earns approximately $1.8 million over the course of a lifetime. As the educational level increases, so do the lifetime earnings. A person who achieves a doctoral or professional degree earns 4 times more money as a person who drops out of school early (See Table 2: Education and Lifetime Earnings).
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011), the projected job growth by training and educational level will vary from 2008-2018. Jobs requiring short, medium and long term training will grow by about 8%. The same rate of growth will hold true for work experience in a job related field and those jobs that require a bachelor degree plus some work experience. Jobs requiring a Post-secondary Vocational Certificate Award will experience an approximately 13% growth by 2018. The education and jobs “sweet spot” is for those individuals who are able to earn an associate degree. Jobs requiring an associate degree will experience the largest amount of growth, even more than jobs requiring higher levels of education. The amount of growth for jobs requiring an associate degree level of education will exceed 18%. Furthermore, there will be more job openings for people with an associate degree than there will be qualified job applicants who possess an associate degree. For higher functioning individuals on the autism spectrum, an associate degree is a worthwhile educational goal.
The Value of Earning an Associate Degree
Earning an associate degree makes sense not only in terms of protecting against unemployment and increasing life time earnings, but in other ways as well. Associate degrees are often more directly tied to a future job. Unlike a bachelor degree in liberal arts, where the education is designed to provide the student with a broad foundation of knowledge, associate degree training is often job specific. The training is more practical and less theoretical and abstract in nature. Many higher functioning students on the autism spectrum do not see the value or point of taking a humanities or English literature course as a part of a distribution pattern for a bachelor degree when he or she is primarily interested in computer programming.
Associate degrees are also a good value. The length of time a student needs to complete a degree and begin working is two years as opposed to the traditional four-year undergraduate degree. In fact, the four-year bachelor degree is becoming the exception, with many more students taking more than four years to complete a four-year degree (Turner, 2004; National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). This at least doubles the cost of tuition. However, tuition is not the only cost of attendance. There are transportation, books, lab fees, meal plans, and dorm costs to consider. Obtaining an associate degree at a local community college is ideal for a student on the spectrum who is willing to live at home while earning a degree and is not necessarily interested in the social and independent living experiences she would have going away to school. Furthermore, obtaining an associate degree will decrease the potential amount of money a student needs to borrow for student loans, and decreases his or her debt to potential earnings ratio.
Which Degree to Pursue?
How does a higher functioning student on the autism spectrum decide whether or not he or she should pursue a vocational certificate, an associate or a bachelor degree? The student along with his or her parents and educators should first obtain an accurate assessment of his or her abilities, aptitudes, strengths, and interests. This can be done through the school district as well as state agencies, such as a state office of vocational rehabilitative services, or an office of persons with developmental disability services (the formal name of the agency varies from state to state). Special education ends once a student either completes a high school degree or reaches 21 years of age. Therefore, a student on the autism spectrum, must be “otherwise qualified” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to pursue a college degree. The assessment should determine if the student has the capability of reading, writing, and conducting mathematics at a college level, but also has the social and executive functioning skills necessary to complete college level assignments and negotiate the complex social environment of a college campus.
Part of the exploration process should include consulting with the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is published annually by the U.S. Department of Labor. This free resource is available at www.bls.gov/ooh. The Handbook is a searchable document that provides job projections through 2020. The searches can be done by education or training level. The student will find out whether or not there will be projected job growth in a field he or she is interested in, what level of education or training is required, and the amount of typical wages for that job. The document also suggests similar job titles to the reader for consideration (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012).
The next step is to locate the vocational training center, college, or Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) program that best fits the student’s needs. This may involve working with the school guidance counselor, transition coordinator, case manager at a state agency to locate a program or college with a good fit to the student’s needs. Three web sites that can aid in the search for a suitable postsecondary program are:
1 – Think College (www.thinkcollege.net) which hosts three information clearing houses:
- The Consortium for Postsecondary Education for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (www.thinkcollege.net/about-us/think-college-initiatives/consortium-to-enhance-postsecondary-education-for-individuals-with-developmental-disabilities)
- The Center for Postsecondary Education for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (www.thinkcollege.net/about-us/think-college-initiatives/center-for-postsecondary-education-for-individuals-with-intellectual-disabilities)
- The National Coordinating Center (www.thinkcollege.net/about-us/think-college-initiatives/national-coordinating-center)
2 – Heath Center at George Washington University (www.heath.gwu.edu) which contains a web page entitled: New Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (www.heath.gwu.edu/assets/50/pse_id_final_edition.pdf) that describes programs around the country that serve students with a variety of disabilities; and
3 – The US Department of Education Federal Student Aid (www.fafsa.ed.gov) which is the home page for federal student aid. By typing in the term “intellectual disabilities” in the local web page search, it will link the reader to http://studentaid.ed.gov/eligibility/intellectual-disabilities. At the bottom of this web page is a list of the federally approved CTPs across the U.S. which can offer financial aid to students who qualify.
New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program is proud to announce the creation of its Associate Assistance Program beginning fall 2013. Qualified students with autism and other neurologically based learning abilities will be able to earn an associate degree over the course of three years with enhanced and specialized support services.
Ernst VanBergeijk is the Associate Dean and Executive Director, and Paul Cavanagh, is the Director of Academics and Evaluation, at New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program (VIP). The Vocational Independence Program is a U.S. Department of Education approved Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) program. www.nyit.edu/vip. The authors also administer Introduction to Independence (I to I) a seven-week summer college preview program for students ages 16 and up.
Aliprantis, D. and Zenker. M. (2011, March). Unemployment Duration by Educational Attainment Economic Trends. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
Julian, T. (2012, October). Work-life earnings by field of degree and occupation for people with a Bachelor’s degree: 2011. American Community Survey Briefs. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
National Center for Education Statistics, (2012). Postsecondary Graduation Rates (Indicator 4502012). Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_pgr
Turner, S.E. (2004). Going to College and Finishing College. Explaining Different Outcomes. In C. M. Hoxby (Ed.) College Choices: The Economics of Where to Go, When to Go and How to Pay for It. University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from: http://www.nber.org/books/hosb04-01
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011). Labor force statistics from the Current Population Survey. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/cps/
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). Labor force statistics from the Current Population Survey. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/cps/