Center for Student Success Research

Scholars in the Center for Student Success Research at UMass Amherst conduct research, evaluation, and organizational assessments that promote access and success in higher education for underrepresented and understudied student populations, including students with disabilities, rural students, and international students.


The Center for Student Success Research (CSSR) facilitates research, evaluation, and organizational assessment aimed at promoting postsecondary access and success for underrepresented and understudied student populations. Social scientists associated with the CSSR utilize diverse methodological and theoretical perspectives to produce research identifying institutional and societal factors that limit or promote equitable pathways into and through higher education. Actionable findings and recommendations inform institutions, policymakers, and other change agents concerning ways to improve conditions for student success.


The long-term vision for CSSR is to be a national leader in facilitating, conducting, and disseminating state of the art research on postsecondary access and success, leading to policies and practices that promote equity and lead to improved outcomes for underrepresented and understudied student populations.

Our Projects

Making Disability Visible in Higher Education Research: Addressing Quantitative, Qualitative, and Theoretical Limitations.

Despite the rapid increase in the number of college students with disabilities, higher education research has not systematically addressed the unique experiences of this rapidly growing population. As such, the literature about college students with disabilities is disproportionately small and substantively inadequate to serve as a foundation for effective higher education policy or practice. Between May 30 and June 1, 2018, seventeen disability scholars will convene for a conference titled: Making Disability Visible in Higher Education Research: Addressing Quantitative, Qualitative, and Theoretical Limitations. At this conference, interdisciplinary scholars from across the United States will: 1)  document the issues (and potential solutions for) the measurement challenges (qualitative, quantitative, theoretical) related to the study of college students with disabilities; 2) articulate a collaborative research agenda for disability in higher education that addresses quantitative, qualitative, and theoretical methodological challenges; and 3) develop and publish guidelines for the incorporation of Universal Design (UD) into research on college students. The conference will take place at the Whispering Pines Conference Center in Rhode Island

Graduate and Professional Education for Students with Disabilities: Examining Access to STEM, Medical, and Legal Fields

This project addresses the underrepresentation of students with disabilities in graduate and professional education. Looking specifically at STEM, medical, and legal fields of study, this project examines how a) lack of affordability and b) positive aspirations for further education, may play a role in disproportionate access to graduate and professional education.

People with disabilities have been historically marginalized and consistently underrepresented at all levels of education. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) in the 1970s changed the landscape for K-12 education, increasing access for many students. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, and since that time students with disabilities have entered postsecondary institutions at greater rates (United States Government Accountability Office, 2009). Recent estimates put the proportion of college students with disabilities at around 11% (Snyder & Dillow, 2013), but the rates are actually higher, given that these figures do not capture a significant number of students who do not disclose their disability status to their campus (Cawthon & Cole, 2010). With the increasing number of students with disabilities entering baccalaureate education, the next logical issue is to better understand how accessible graduate and professional education is for this underrepresented group.

Research on college students with disabilities is sparse at all levels (Kimball, Wells, Ostiguy, Manly & Lauterbach, 2016; Peña, 2014), but especially so for graduate and professional education. Education researchers know relatively little about the pipeline into and through post-baccalaureate education for this group. This research aims to add to knowledge in three specific areas of graduate and professional education that are of national importance, and in which evidence exists that students with disabilities are underrepresented: a) science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), b) medical and health-related fields, and c) legal education.

Disability & Purpose

Now entering its dissemination phase, the Disability & Purpose project examined how students with disabilities selected majors and developed career aspirations while in college. Publications from this project have focused on: 1) the influence of disability status on identity development; 2) purpose development while in college; 3) activism and advocacy; 4) the sexual and gender  identity development; 5) the influence of social class on identity development; and 6) coping and resilience strategies. Forthcoming work from this project examines topics such as: 1) disability-based microaggressions; 2) the STEM career pathways of students with disabilities; and 3) the intersections of ableism, misogyny, and other forms of gender-based oppression. 

Emotional Influences on Diagnostic Error in Emergency Medicine

 An Experimental Approach to Understand Diagnostic Failure and Facilitate Improvement for Patients with and without Mental Illness: For this project, Center personnel serve as the qualitative methodologists for the study's initial phase of data collection. The qualitative data collection provides preliminary data designed to inform experiments that advance the project's overall goal of developing strategies that help reduce diagnostic errors resulting from faulty thinking processes based on affective pre-dispositions and experiences related to how physicians think about people with mental health conditions.


Currently in its data collection phase, the LGBTQIA+ in STEM study seeks to understand how college students who have at least minoritized gender or sexual identity and who are majoring in a STEM field make meaning of their experiences. More specifically, this study utilizes both qualitative interviews and focus groups to learn about the successes, challenges, supports, and barriers encountered by LGBTQIA+ students in STEM fields.

Decreasing Implicit Bias of Pre-Health Professionals Through Intergroup Dialogue

For this exploratory study, an interdisciplinary research team is developing and implementing an intergroup dialogue (IGD) intervention intended to decrease implicit bias among pre-health professionals. The project will result in the development of novel theory, program content, and experimental techniques for measuring the effect of IGD on undergraduate college students. 

Disability in STEM 

The Disability in STEM study, which is now in its dissemination phase, sought to understand how student with disabilities experience STEM pathways in postsecondary learning environments. Products from this study include examinations of: 1) STEM aspirations and preparedness; 2) postsecondary STEM trajectories; 3) the development of positive STEM self-concept; 4) the influence of positive and negative faculty perceptions on student success; and 5) the influence of familial support. 

Working Groups

Rural Students in Postsecondary Education
Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education
Transnational Students in Postsecondary Education

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119N Furcolo Hall
813 North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA, 01002


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