According to a 2011 study, almost 65%of high school students with disabilities enrolled in a post-secondary institution to pursue higher education within eight years of leaving high school (Newman et al., 2011). One possible reason for this is that many careers and jobs now require specialized knowledge and skills which can be learned by attending a post-secondary institution such as a college or university. The most recent statistics available show that 34% of students with disabilities who attend a four-year college or university complete their degree (Newman et al., 2011). Results of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey show that degree attainment is associated with better employment outcomes (Census Bureau, 2016). Due to the existence of this correlation, Georgia State University aims to assist students in meeting their graduation goals by prioritizing retention through programs which equip students with skills needed to succeed. Disability Services strives to support the university in its efforts by trying to improve completion rates for Georgia State students with disabilities through the provision of services and resources.
One way of helping students with disabilities flourish at college is by ensuring that they are ready for the transition from high school to college. Starting college can be simultaneously exhilarating and overwhelming for most students and students with disabilities experience similar emotions while transitioning. There are some key differences in the way disability accommodations are handled by high schools and by colleges and universities. Being unaware of these differences can create challenges for students with disabilities and prevent them from receiving the accommodations they need. In contrast, if students with disabilities enter college familiar with these differences, they are more likely to be able to take advantage of the services and resources that colleges and universities offer. Some of these critical differences are compiled and outlined below.
- Different Laws, Differing Intent of the Law
The accommodation process in high schools is governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) whereas at the college/university level, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are applicable. While IDEA focusses on the academic success of all students, the purpose of ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is to provide equal access to students with disabilities.
- Shift in Responsibility
The accommodation process is primarily driven by the school system at the secondary level. The bulk of the responsibility for identifying students with disabilities, assessing their disability-related needs and devising individualized educational plans (IEPs) for them lies on the school. In colleges and universities, however, students with disabilities have to take that initiative and identify themselves and register with departments which provide disability services. This particular difference is often the toughest for students transitioning to college to deal with as they are used to having others take care of the accommodations procedures for them. Being aware of this shift of responsibility and learning to self-advocate can help transitioning students overcome this difficulty.
- Evaluation & Documentation Differences
While secondary school systems are required to seek out and provide disability evaluations to students they perceive may have the need for services, colleges and universities are not subject to the same requirement. On the contrary, colleges and universities have a right to ask for documentation from the student that outlines the diagnosis as well as the functional limitations it causes. Transitioning students must not get surprised if they are told that their high school IEP is not sufficient documentation of their disability or that the medical documentation that they have provided is outdated. It is advisable for transitioning high school graduates to make arrangements to obtain updated documentation of their disability from their medical provider. Doing so will likely help them avoid unnecessary frustration or delay in the provision of accommodations in college.
- Information Sharing & Confidentiality
Unlike at high school, at a college or university students have complete control over who they would like to know about their disability. The information that a student provides about his or her disability is strictly confidential and is only released to individuals who the student explicitly authorizes. Even the role of parents and guardians changes from that of primary advocates to that of supporters as students make the transition from high school to college. Though a parent and guardian can still participate, it is at the complete discretion of the student to determine how much he or she wants the parents to get involved. It is also important to note here that for a request for accommodations to be reviewed, it has to be made directly by the student and not by the parent or guardian on the student’s behalf.
By being mindful of these differences, students with disabilities can transition from high school to college more seamlessly. They can start their college careers with greater readiness and receive accommodations to demonstrate their abilities without any delay or difficulty. This can in turn contribute to their academic success.