Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - NLU Access

Degree Name

Ed.D. Doctor of Education

Academic Discipline

Disability and Equity in Education

First Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Minor

Second Advisor

Dr. Terry Jo Smith

Third Advisor

Dr. Todd Price


In the United States, evident disparities in life outcomes exist between adults with disabilities and their non-disabled peers. These disparities are present in numerous measures, including (but not limited to) income, postsecondary education, independent living, and health. To a considerable degree, our Nation’s preschool-through-12th grade (P-12) education system is tasked with preparing our youth for postsecondary success. As such, it is reasonable to question if, how, and to what degree schools influence these disparate life outcomes. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students who struggle in school due to a disability receive an individualized education program (IEP) and are provided with special education and services. Despite these supports, students with IEPs have significantly poorer school and postsecondary outcomes than their peers without IEPs. Consequently, many critiques and criticisms are launched against our Nation’s special education system. On the surface, scrutinizing special education systems and practices appears to be the most prominent and direct position to investigate these disparities. However, factors outside the immediate purview and control of special education systems are known to impact all students' school and postsecondary outcomes, such as climate, culture, bullying, suspension, and expulsion. Moreover, students with IEPs are subject to many of these experiences at higher rates. Most research exploring the school and postsecondary outcome gaps between students with and without IEPs focuses on the effectiveness of special education or immutable student-level characteristics, not on these additional contributing elements. This study attempts to address this research gap by exploring how one of these school experiences, exclusionary discipline, affects the outcomes of students with and without IEPs. Exclusionary discipline (suspension and expulsion) adversely influences the school and postsecondary outcomes for all students, and students with IEPs are suspended and expelled at approximately twice the rate of their peers without IEPs. Suspension is also a practice that does not immediately involve special educators as, legally, the decision to suspend a student is made by a school administrator (principal, assistant principal, or dean). Considering its adverse effects and its disproportionate use on students with IEPs, exclusionary discipline likely contributes to the outcome disparities between students with and without IEPs. While likely, this relationship is unknown as only a single published study has reported findings related to the effects of exclusionary discipline on the outcomes of students with IEPs. Using recent data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), a nationally representative school survey, this study sought to explore this largely unaddressed topic by comparing the academic school outcomes (high school GPA) and postschool outcomes (college enrollment, attendance, and postsecondary GPA) between students based on IEP status and suspension/expulsion status.

Available for download on Monday, July 13, 2026