Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Higher Education Administration

Major Professor

Norma T. Mertz

Committee Members

Ernest W. Brewer, Steven P. Dandaneau, Amy L. Skinner


Although some literature chronicles the career development of college students with other types of disabilities, students with psychiatric disabilities have been practically invisible in research focused on this topic. Yet evidence suggests that the number of students with documented psychiatric disabilities attending institutions of higher education is on the rise. Thus, the purpose of the study was to describe the career development and employment concerns of employment-seeking students with psychiatric disabilities.

A qualitative research design was used to gain in-depth information from the perspective of students with psychiatric disabilities, specifically case study. The participants were seven undergraduate students from three Research I institutions. All participants were in their senior year of study, planned to transition into employment post-graduation, and had a documented psychiatric disability. Data were collected through semi-structured individual interviews. The constant comparative method was used to analyze the data, which allowed patterns and themes to be discovered in reference to the research questions.

The findings of the study included the following: (1) the majority (n = 5) of participants did not have clearly defined career goals, (2) the participants had minimal engagement in career development activities, (3) all participants revealed disability-related problems or concerns associated with future employment, (4) no one employment concern was shared by all seven participants, yet two themes dominated: (a) interpersonal skills and relationships, and (b) taking longer to complete tasks, time management, and a potential psychiatric disability relapse; (5) without prompting, all but one of the participants either directly or indirectly referenced the negative stigma attached to psychiatric disabilities; (6) the majority (n = 4) of participants were not planning to disclose their disability to a future employer for reasons related to stigma, and (7) none of the participants knew much about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The findings suggest that students with psychiatric disabilities have multiple concerns about employment, anxiety and confusion regarding the process of disability disclosure, and little understanding of their rights and responsibilities under the ADA. A greater level of knowledge might result in more students with psychiatric disabilities being prepared for the transition to employment.

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