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What Research Tells Us of Lifelong Learning and its Impact on Earnings for People with Hearing Loss

What Research Tells Us of Lifelong Learning and its Impact on Earnings for People with Hearing Loss

This presentation was part of the Sunday morning Research Symposium. It was presented by Dr. Sara Schley of NTID.


Sara started us off with a discussion of the impact of lifelong learning on incomes for people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

She prefaced her results by explaining that NTID has perhaps the most extensive collection of information available on a group of people with hearing loss. They began collecting information in 1980 on every student who applied to NTID, so that data is available.

But the key to their outstanding database is their collaboration with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to relate income data with their student data. Sara noted that the folks at the SSA do the actual data matching and return just aggregate data. So the folks at NTID never see individual SSA data on the students.

The goal of the NTID researchers is to study the self-sufficiency and earnings of the students, by tracking their transition into and out of SSA and similar programs.

As you may know, employment trends for people with disabilities are not good. Since 1980 incomes of people with disabilities have remained flat, while incomes of those without disabilities have increased. The employment rate of people without disabilities is now at 82%, while the employment of those with disabilities is only 31% – and that’s down from 35% in 1980. In that same time period, the employment rate of deaf and hard of hearing people has fallen by 10%!

The NTID database includes all 11,793 students who have applied to NTID since 1980, and they are divided into four categories: received a four-year degree; received a two-year degree; were accepted to NTID, but withdrew without receiving a degree; and those who were not accepted. In the interest of academic rigor, they also maintain data on a matched group of hearing applicants to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), NTID’s parent institution. Sara will not report on those students today, but the short story is that the hearing students do better than the deaf and hard of hearing students.

Sara first showed graphs of employment rate vs age for students in each of the four categories. The graphs began fairly low for students in their early 20s, reflecting the fact that not all students chose to work during college. The graphs of each category tended to peak at around age 30, and then slowly decline from there. The graphs ranked as you would expect: students with four-year degrees performed the best, followed by those with two-year degrees, then by those who withdrew, and finally, those who were denied admission. Peak values of employment rates (around age 30) varied from about 85% for those with four-year degrees to about 60% for those who were not admitted. By age fifty, these rates had fallen to around 80% and around 60%, respectively.

Sara also reported that those with four-year degrees earned on average about $12,000 more annually than those who were denied admission, and about $4760 more than those with two-year degrees.

Before looking at enrollments in SSA programs, Sara discussed both the SSI and the SSDI programs.

SSI is a needs-based program. Student’s enrollment in SSI tended to decline as they aged. The order of participation percentage was the inverse of the order in the last study (those who were not accepted to NTID showed the highest participation rate), but the spread was very small.

SSDI benefits are based on work history; the more you have worked, the greater your benefit. By age 50, the SSDI participation rates were roughly (as closely as I could read them off the chart) 20%, 25%, 35%, and 40%, ordered from graduates with four-year degrees through those who were not admitted.

Q. You mentioned that the average income for all deaf and hard of hearing households was under $25,000 annually. What is the average household income for deaf and hard of hearing people who are working?
A. I don’t have that information, but see me after the presentation and I’ll give you the citation where you can find it.

Q. Do any of your statistics consider racial or ethnic factors?
A. Not yet. We do have that information available, but we haven’t done those breakdowns yet.

Q. Will you be studying HOH students in normal (mainstreamed) settings?
A. We would love to do that, but we don’t know how to identify them.

Q. Do you classify people as Deaf or HOH based on the amount of hearing loss or culturally?
A. Our guideline is a hearing loss of 70 db in the better ear, but we do admit people with better hearing if they can demonstrate a special need.

Q. Is there a similar study that focuses on late-deafened adults?
A. That would be phenomenal, but I’m not aware of any.

C. I think the folks at Better Hearing Institute might have some of that; also, you might check with Johns Hopkins.

Q. Would it be worthwhile to tap into databases about preschool and elementary children?
A. That might be a little sticky for us, but it’s sure worth considering.

Q. How many Afro-American students apply to NTID?
A. I think about 27% of our students are minority, and about a third of them are Afro-American. I’m not sure of those numbers, but they are on our website.