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Retention and Graduation: College Students with Autism


As we talked about in yesterday’s post, there is a large group of students enrolled at any college or university who meet, or could meet the diagnostic criteria for an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Applying prevalence rates from previous studies, we can extrapolate that there are between 200 and 500 students enrolled at the University of Tennessee who are or could be on the Spectrum. They do not have to identify that they have this disorder unless they seek accommodations through Student Disability Services (here at UT), and since most don’t consider themselves disabled, we don’t have a firm number established.

These students are typically very bright, by testing standards, and have made high grades, for the most part, through high school. So, their test scores are high and their grades are good; college should be just fine, right?

Well, maybe. This is where we often see some difficulties. High school students are provided a great deal of support through classmates who have been together for several years, through building-level teachers and administrators, and through active parents.

College, however, requires a fairly large jump in independence. This jump can be quite significant for students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Living arrangements change, routines change, instructors change…lots of change, and change can be a challenge for students with ASD. These students need a great deal more support with social skills, study skills, and organizational skills to help navigate all the change and transition that’s going on.

Students with ASD, without supports, have a 5-year graduation rate that varies, depending on the study from about 20% to 40%, as compared to around 70% for the general student population here at the University of Tennessee. However, when students with ASD receive appropriate services that targets social skill, study skill, and organizational skill development, the graduation rates go up to above 80% (peer institutions who have support service programs provided this data, including the University of Alabama and the University of Arkansas).

Providing students with these supplementary services, such as those we provide here at the KLASS Center (PASS Program) are key in improving college students’ outcomes who have ASD.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.