Beyond High School

An H&V interview with Ronald R. Kelly, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Research and Teacher Education. National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology Rochester Institute of Technology, New York

How many students who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) go on to college?

Resources for College Students

Students who do not know how to find the office for disability services or do not use available support services are more likely to drop out of college. As compared to a 47% dropout rate for students without disabilities, the college dropout rate for students with hearing impairments is 71%. Those students with hearing impairments who drop out from college have reported feeling isolated and often do not know how to get the support services necessary for them to succeed. Students who know from the beginning how to find the office for disability services, know how to ask for the help they need, and know their rights are much better equipped to succeed in college.

Download this fantastic resource as a PDF at

A Nuts and Bolts Guide to College Success for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

Another resource:

PEPNet, the Postsecondary Programs Network, is comprised of the four Regional Postsecondary Education Centers for Individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The Centers strive to create effective technical assistance for educational institutions providing access and accommodation to these students. For more information, contact your Regional Center. For materials and resources or further information about PEPNet and the Regional Centers, visit

First, I am not sure anyone has a definitive answer to the question “how many deaf and hard of hearing students go onto higher education?” nationwide on an annual basis. While there are approximately 62,000 DHH students in pre-K through grade 12 (Karchmer & Mitchell, 2003), I could not find anything on an annual percentage of DHH graduates nationwide who go onto college. I saw nothing in the Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI) annual survey that provides this information. I followed up with an individual at GRI who indicated that they would start collecting this information as part of their annual survey next year. Additionally, GRI shared some data from the 2008-2009 Texas State Survey of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students that showed of the DHH students who graduated with no content modification (n = 105) or who graduated with an IEP (n = 150), 41% responded that they entered a postsecondary program. Allen (1994) reported data showing that, although two-thirds of the severely to profoundly deaf students leaving high school from 1992 –1994 attended some type of postsecondary institution, only one fourth read at the fifth grade level or above. Furthermore, Allen estimated that only about 8% of these college-bound deaf students read at the eighth grade level or higher.

There is information, however, on how many DHH students nationwide attend post-secondary programs annually. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), there are more than 20,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing students enrolled annually in post-secondary educational institutions in the United States, with approximately 93% of them at the undergraduate level (NCES, 1995 as cited in Marschark, Lang, & Albertini, 2002, p. 151).

If they have gone onto higher education, how many DHH students graduate with a bachelor’s degree?

Nationally, across all post-secondary institutions, Marschark et al. (2002) state that “Around 35 percent of deaf students graduate from two-year programs compared to about 40 percent of their hearing peers; and around 30% of deaf students graduate from four-year programs, compared to about 70% of their hearing peers. In part, these differences reflect the fact that even if deaf students are provided with academic support services within the classroom, they may have had unmet educational needs before the college years (pp. 151-152). I believe their graduation figures are from NCES data.

If you look specifically at a university program like NTID, you will see in our Annual Reports the following graduation rates: At the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology, the retention to graduation rate for DHH students in two-year programs is 49% and for DHH students in four-year programs, it is 70%  (NTID Annual Report, 2006). While these graduation rates for DHH students are indeed comparatively positive, note that it takes five years on average to complete an associate degree and five to six years on average for a baccalaureate degree.

Also, while these NTID/RIT graduation rates are accurate for those DHH students who are accepted into two-year and four-year academic programs, they do not include or provide a picture of those students who attended NTID/RIT but were not accepted into those programs.

For a conference presentation and book chapter that I completed two years ago, I calculated the graduation rate for all 13,200 DHH students who attended NTID/RIT from 1968 through 2007 (four decades) and found the following:

  • 14.2% (1,871) earned a baccalaureate degree
  • 23.8% (3,141) earned an associate degree
  • 2.1% (282) earned a master’s degree

This represents an overall 40.1% graduation rate for DHH students at NTID/RIT since 1968 through 2007 (5,294 / 13,200).

The percentage of DHH students who graduated in each of the eight colleges at Rochester Institute of Technology during the four decades from 1968-2007 is as follows. (Note that the degrees earned in the College of NTID are two-year associate degrees and the degrees earned in the other RIT colleges are primarily baccalaureate degrees.)

  • Science = 2.8%
  • Engineering = 1.5%
  • Computing/Information Technologies = 1.9%
  • College of Applied Science and Technology = 12.0%
  • Business = 6.6%
  • Imaging Arts & Sciences = 6.3%
  • Liberal Arts = 7.6%
  • National Technical Institute for the Deaf = 56.0%
  • *Discontinued RIT programs no longer offered:
  • Continuing Education = 0.5%
  • Printing = 1.8%
  • Fine Arts = 3.0%

The overall 40% graduation rate that I calculated for NTID/RIT DHH students from 1968-2007 appears consistent with Gallaudet University. While I don’t have the documentation for GU graduation rates, a newspaper article in Fall 2008 noted that Gallaudet had a 40% graduation rate. Note that I assume the GU graduation rate is for baccalaureate degrees, but the news article did not provide a breakdown.

Why do some DHH students have a harder time in college?

The reason DHH students struggle in college/university programs is that they generally come underprepared compared to their hearing peers. For DHH students attending NTID/RIT the following percentages meet or exceed the ACT Benchmarks for success in college compared to entering hearing college students nation-wide:

  • ACT English Benchmark: 20% of DHH compared to 68% of hearing
  • ACT Reading Benchmark: 20% of DHH compared to 51% of hearing
  • ACT Mathematics Benchmark: 15% of DHH compared to 41% of hearing
  • ACT Science Reasoning Benchmark: 10% of DHH compared to 26% of hearing

To understand better this issue of being underprepared for college, one can look at the data on K-12 DHH students’ SAT test performance. Qi and Mitchell (2007) analyzed five cohorts (1974, 1983, 1990, 1996, 2003) of K-12 DHH students SAT test performances over three decades and found that DHH students’ performance has been consistently below hearing students, and that the achievement gap is larger for reading than for mathematics. Specifically, the Qi and Mitchell findings showed DHH students’ performance in:

  1. Reading Comprehension increased slightly each year from ages 8-17, but their median performance never exceeded the 4th grade equivalent
  2. Mathematic Problem Solving, by age 17 achieved the equivalent of 6th grade
  3. Mathematics Procedures, results were similar by ages 16-17, generally 6th grade level, except for the 1983 and 1990 cohort samples who reached the grade equivalent of 7.5.


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