Lack of College Disability Information Prompts Congress to Introduce the RISE Act

The transition to college is a big challenge for kids with learning and thinking differences. A recent survey on Understood suggests one reason why—parents can’t find information on college accommodations and services.

The survey asked parents of high school students and graduates with learning and thinking differences about their experiences with college. Over 1,200 parents answered. The results were concerning:

  • Only 11 percent of parents of high school students who are seeking college accommodations clearly understand the process.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of parents of high school students seeking college have found it difficult to find information about disability services at different colleges.

And the biggest reason kids aren’t going to college? Parents can’t find a program that fits their child’s needs, according to the survey.

This is a timely issue as more students with are graduating from high school than ever before. In 2015, a record 64 percent of students with disabilities graduated from high school. That’s up from 59 percent in 2011.

But many of those graduates aren’t heading to college. According to the 2014 State of LD, a publication from Understood founding partner the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), only 21 percent of students with learning disabilities attend a four-year college. That’s about half the rate of the general population (40 percent).

Christina Paternoster is a Pennsylvania mom of a college freshman with , and . Earlier this year, her son went through the college application process, and she agrees there’s a problem.

“Finding a college that’s a good fit for my child hasn’t been easy,” she says. “I know my family is not alone in this.” Paternoster has used Understood to connect with other parents to help her better understand the process.

Part of the problem may be that students are transitioning from high school, where kids have , to college, where there are no IEPs. Federal special education law doesn’t apply to college students, so students have fewer rights.

At the same time, students may not be aware of the rights they do have. Both the and apply to college and provide for accommodations.

Congress is aware of the problem and is working on a solution.

This week, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced the Respond, Innovate, Succeed and Empower Act (RISE Act). This Act would do three things to help students and families:

  1. Provide more funding for a one-stop resource for information about disability services in college.
  2. Require colleges to accept an IEP or 504 plan as evidence of a disability. This would make it easier and less costly for students to get accommodations.
  3. Support a technical assistance center to highlight strategies that help students with disabilities succeed in college. The center would also train college faculty on those strategies.

Advocacy groups like NCLD and the Learning Disabilities Association of America, another Understood founding partner, are fully behind the RISE Act.

“We have heard from parents and students about the barriers they face in college and I’m proud that we have elevated this issue in the U.S. Senate,” said Mimi Corcoran, president and CEO of NCLD. “We applaud the bipartisan leadership of Senators Casey, Hatch and Cassidy as we work to ensure that colleges and universities become more welcoming environments for diverse learners.”

It’s too early to know if the RISE Act will become law. The bill would need to pass the Senate and House first, before being signed by the president. NCLD, LDA and other groups in Washington, D.C., are working to move the legislation forward.

In the meantime, Paternoster and her family are navigating the system as best they can. “My son just started at Westminster College,” she says. “Right now, the most important thing is making sure there is a good support network for him. We want him to succeed and enjoy the experience.”

To learn more, watch as an expert explains how the RISE Act would help students get accommodations in college.

About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.