Progress of DO-IT Participants Toward College and Careers

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Current Results of the ALTS

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Elizabeth Moore, and Lyla Crawford

People with disabilities are underrepresented in challenging academic and career fields, including those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Since 1992, DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) has undertaken activities to increase the success of people with disabilities in college and careers.

DO-IT has encouraged participation in STEM fields with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). DO-IT's latest NSF-funded projects are AccessSTEM and AccessComputing. The goal of AccessSTEM is to increase the number of individuals with disabilities who have degrees and careers in STEM. AccessComputing focuses more specifically on computing fields and employment.


The AccessSTEM/AccessComputing/DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study (ALTS) explores college and career outcomes for students with disabilities who have participated in DO-IT activities that were at least partially funded by NSF. Current results can be found at This report summarizes DO-IT interventions and selected results of the ALTS.

The ALTS measures progress toward degrees and careers of students with disabilities who had a goal of postsecondary education while in high school and received DO-IT-sponsored interventions (e.g., internships, mentoring, college transition activities).

The ongoing study is designed so that participant responses can be updated and data can be analyzed at any time. Recognizing that some respondents in the study are still enrolled in secondary school or are recent high school graduates, the researchers track the status of respondents as they progress through critical junctures that lead to degrees and careers (Figure 1). The ALTS Logic Model (Figure 2) provides a visual representation of DO-IT activities in which respondents were involved, as well as project outputs, goals, outcomes, and long-term impacts.

The data of ALTS respondents are compared to statistics from nationwide studies, including the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS and NLTS-2) (SRI International, 2001-2011) which is a follow-up of the original National Longitudinal Transition Study (SRI International, 1985-1993).


As of February 2011, ALTS included a total of 294 respondents with disabilities that affect:


Respondents participated in the following evidence-based practices:

Participants and staff rated the value of all interventions highly for promoting college and career success.


ALTS participants experienced a 100% high school completion rate; in comparison, the high school completion rate of NLTS and NLTS2 participants was 54% and 70%, respectively. Approximately half of both ALTS and NLTS postsecondary participants began their postsecondary studies at technical or two-year colleges.

An overwhelming majority (95%) of ALTS high school graduates attended a two- or four-year college, of which 95% attended within two years from high school graduation. This outcome suggests the positive impact of DO-IT interventions when compared to the NLTS participants of which 31% took a postsecondary course within two years after high school. This finding is not surprising to DO-IT staff who consider the ongoing program supports, as noted in DO-IT's critical junctures model (Figure 1), essential for many students with disabilities to transition successfully to and succeed in college and careers.

At the time the data was collected, 27%, 56%, and 50% of ALTS respondents at two-year, four-year, and graduate schools, respectively, majored in STEM. Ninety-five respondents earned a total of one hundred and twenty-two postsecondary degrees, fifty-five (45%) of these certificates or degrees were in STEM. In contrast, a national postsecondary student aid study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (Berkner etal., 2005), found that even though undergraduate students with disabilities choose natural sciences and engineering at the same rate (18%) as students without disabilities, graduate students with disabilities are less likely than those without disabilities to major in natural sciences and engineering. Specifically, 9% percent of the NCES graduate students with disabilities majored in natural sciences and engineering as compared to 13% of graduate students without disabilities. These results suggest that DO-IT interventions may be helping to fill the gap in STEM studies between youth with and without disabilities.

Perhaps DO-IT's greatest impact on the number of STEM degrees earned by students with disabilities results from interventions that increase degree attainment overall. The total number of STEM degrees is likely larger than what it would be otherwise due to the increased pool of college graduates with disabilities as a result of these interventions. Data should be analyzed in light of the fact that DO-IT recruits students with disabilities who are not necessarily initially interested in STEM, as noted in the "Earlier Research Results Regarding DO-IT Interventions" section of this publication. Data suggest that DO-IT interventions increase the overall perception of career options of participants, particularly girls, and the interest in STEM of those not initially interested in STEM.

Post-School Employment

Seventy-three ALTS respondents were recorded as currently "employed" in positions. Forty (40%) percent of these positions were STEM-oriented or in fields with significant technology demands. Among those not still enrolled in college, seventy (70%) percent of those who partipated in extracurricular STEM organizations and activities were employed, asignificantly higher percentage than the percentage of those who did not (44%). Among those still enrolled in college, 21% of those in extracurricular STEM activities are employed, as are 15% of those who are not involved in similar activities.

Many participants who pursued non-STEM careers (e.g., accounting, law, education, journalism) benefited from the STEM knowledge and encouragement they gained through DO-IT activities. Their positive responses to ALTS questions about the value of DO-IT interventions suggest that these activities supported the NSF goal of expanding the STEM literacy of all citizens. For example, participants who were encouraged to take mathematics courses as a result of DO-IT activities are prepared to pursue math-intensive careers such as accounting. Participants who became teachers are now in positions to encourage other young people with disabilities to consider STEM careers. Those who have become attorneys and other professionals serve as role models to young people with disabilities, helping them consider career options that they previously thought were unattainable.

Earlier Research Results Regarding DO-IT Interventions

The DO-IT Scholars program, originally funded in 1992 by NSF and now funded by the State of Washington, supports transitions from high school to college and careers for students with disabilities. DO-IT Scholars are college-bound high school students who face significant challenges in pursuing postsecondary studies and careers as a result of their disabilities. They are not necessarily initially interested in STEM fields, but program activities include those designed to increase interest and knowledge in STEM. By providing an on-campus summer study, year-round peer and mentor support, and work-based learning experiences, DO-IT helps these students develop self-determination, social, academic, technology, career, and employment skills and successfully transition to adulthood.

A rich body of evaluation and research data has been collected on this program. It includes reports from Scholars, parents, and mentors and analyzes the perceived value of program interventions and participant differences with respect to gender, disability, and STEM interest. Some of the results are summarized at Highlights include the following:


The ALTS and earlier studies suggest that DO-IT interventions positively impact high school and college graduation rates and career participation, particularly in STEM fields, for people with disabilities.


Berkner, L., Wei, C. C., He, S., Cominole, M., & Siegel, P. (2005). 2003-04 National postsecondary student aid study (NPSAS:04): Undergraduate financial aid estimates for 2003-04 by type of institution (NCES2005-163). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics.

Burgstahler, S., Moore, E., & Crawford, L. (2007). Report of the AccessSTEM/ AccessComputing DO-IT longitudinal transition study (ALTS). Seattle: University of Washington.

SRI International (1987-1993). National longitudinal transition study (NLTS) Menlo Park, CA: Author.

Wagner, M., Newman, L., Cameto, R., Garza, N., & Levine, P. (2005). After high school: A first look at the postschool experiences of youth with disabilities. A report of the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS-2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.


The content of this publication was taken with permission from Report of the AccessSTEM/AccessComputing> DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study (ALTS) at The DO-IT Scholars program, in which many study respondents participated, has been primarily funded by the National Science Foundation (grant #9255803, 9550003, and 9800324) and the State of Washington since 1992.

The AccessSTEM/DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study (ALTS) is supported by the National Science Foundation (award #HRD-0227995, HRD-0833504 in RDE, and CNS-0540615 and CNS-0837508 in CISE). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

This model is a flowchart listing the following critical junctures: graduation from high school, graduation from 2-year college in STEM field, graduation from 4-year college in STEM field, graduation from graduate school in STEM, STEM career position. Then it lists transition steps between these junctures and project inputs than can help individuals move from one juncture to another. Project inputs are peer, near-peer, mentor, and family support; identification and utilization of resources; technology access; activities to develop STEM interests; activities to develop self-determination; academic accommodations, including in STEM; academic support, including in STEM; college preparation activities, preparation for graduate school, career preparation and work-based learning activities, paid internships in STEM; research experiences in STEM, and employment accommodations. Copyright 2008, 2006 Sheryl Burgstahler

Figure 2. ALTS Logic Model


Low rates of high school success & completion; college entrance; persistence & graduation; employment in science, technology, engineering, & mathematics (STEM) as well as other career positions for people with disabilities.

Students with disabilities are capable of college studies and may or may not have interest in STEM1.

Shortage of qualified workers in some STEM fields.

DO-IT expertise in research & practice with respect to increasing STEM participation of people with disabilities.

DO-IT programs funded by National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, State of Washington, & others.

Activities 2, 3

DO-IT Scholars & Ambassadors1:

  • Peer, near-peer, mentor, family support.
  • Technology access.
  • Activities to develop STEM, other interests.
  • Activities to develop self-determination skills.
  • College & career preparation.
  • Internships, other work-based learning.
  • Multiple residential college experiences.
  • Leadership opportunities including near-peer & mentor support of younger participants.
  • Mentoring.
  • Internships and other work-based learning.
  • College transition activities.
  • Career transition activities.
  • DO-IT and other events to increase STEM interest (e.g., field trips).
  • Academic residential experience on college campuses.

Goals and Outcomes 4

Increased academic, social, & career skills.

Increased perceived career options.

Increased high school graduation.

Increased enrollment in college.

Increased undergraduate degrees.

Increased participation in graduate school.

Increased graduate degrees.

Increased participation in STEM coursework, STEM majors, and STEM undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Long-Term Impacts

People with disabilities are more successful in adult life activities (e.g., independent living, community participation).

More students with disabilities graduate from postsecondary programs with STEM degrees.

More people with disabilities are employed in STEM fields.


  1. Participants in the DO-IT Scholars and Ambassadors program and other DO-IT activities are not necessarily initially interested in STEM. The program promotes general STEM interest and knowledge as well as college studies and careers in STEM and other pursuits based on individual needs and skills.
  2. An ALTS respondent may (a) be a DO-IT Scholar or Ambassador and receive multiple interactions as noted; (b) participate in a single activity; or (c) participate in several individual activities (e.g., internship and mentoring).
  3. Although DO-IT Scholars and Ambassadors receive more interventions than other participants, as a group they may be less likely to be initially interested in STEM than other participants who often enter the program because they are interested in STEM (e.g., as an AccessSTEM participant).
  4. These goals and outcomes are relative to available nationwide data, such as that from the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS).

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195-4842
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
206-221-4171 (fax)
509-328-9331 (voice/TTY) Spokane

Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners


The content of this publication was taken with permission from Report of the AccessSTEM/AccessComputing DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study (ALTS) at The DO-IT Scholars program, in which many study respondents participated, has been primarily funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant #9255803, #9550003, #9800324) and the State of Washington since 1992.

The AccessSTEM/AccessComputing DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study (ALTS) is supported by the National Science Foundation (Award #HRD- 0227995, #HRD-0833504 in RDE, #CNS-0540615, #CNS-0837508 in CISE). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Copyright © 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008 University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.