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Postsecondary Pathways and Persistence for STEM Versus Non-STEM Majors: Among College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder


Little is known about postsecondary pathways and persistence among college students with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This study analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, 2001–2009, a nationally representative sample of students in special education with an ASD who progressed from high school to postsecondary education. Findings suggest that most college students with an ASD enrolled in a 2-year community college at some point in the postsecondary careers (81 %). Those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields were more likely to persist in a 2-year community college and were twice as likely to transfer from a 2-year community college to a 4-year university than their peers in the non-STEM fields. College persistence rates varied by gender, race, parent education level, and college pathway and major. Educational policy implications are discussed.

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  1. The reasons for dropping out of postsecondary institutions include high cost, transportation issues, moved, did not like school, cannot get along with friends, cannot get along with professors, friends dropped out, poor grades, safety issue in school, did not get services needed, changed schools, finished the classes youth wanted to take, need to get a job, no time or have other conflicts, did not get into the program youth wanted, illness/disability, got married, got pregnant, travel, or entered the military.

  2. There were 4, 0, 5, 1, 5, and 1 % of missing data on age, gender, race, annual household income, whether parent attended postsecondary education, and youth’s conversation ability, respectively.

  3. Missing data rates were low on the correlates; consequently, imputation was not conducted for the correlates.


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This research was supported by Grant HRD -1130088 from the National Science Foundation, Grants R324A120012 and R305A120300 from the US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, and Grant R01 MH086489 from the National Institute of Mental Health. However, any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the positions or polices of the funding agency.

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Correspondence to Xin Wei.

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Wei, X., Christiano, E.R.A., Yu, J.W. et al. Postsecondary Pathways and Persistence for STEM Versus Non-STEM Majors: Among College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 44, 1159–1167 (2014).

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  • Autism
  • 2-Year community colleges
  • 4-Year universities
  • College pathway
  • College persistence
  • Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)