Students with learning and thinking differences will be getting a new tool to help them succeed in college. It’s the new National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities. Call it the “TA Center” for short.
The TA Center’s mission is to make it easier for students with disabilities to get the support they need in college. (This mission can cover students with , and other issues.)
A little background is helpful to understand why the TA Center is needed. There are no IEPs in college, says James H. Wendorf, executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). “The system of supports and rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act doesn’t extend past high school.” However, every college and university must provide to students with disabilities. They must also provide information to ensure “fair recruitment and admission” of students, says Wendorf.
But it’s often hard for students to find out what’s available and ask for support. Many colleges are also at a loss for how to best serve these students’ needs. Some administrators don’t know “how to comply with the law,” says Lindsay Jones, director of public policy and advocacy for NCLD. “It’s a confusing process for both students and universities.”
The TA Center, which will be available online, will change this.
- It will provide information for students and their parents about college services.
- It will offer training for college faculty and staff on how to meet the needs of student with disabilities and improve their college experience.
- It will maintain an online database of research, policies, accessible instructional materials and helpful information for students with disabilities.
The new center comes at a critical time. More and more students with learning and thinking differences are setting their sights on college. But many are falling short.
According to The State of Learning Disabilities report, only about one in five students with learning disabilities attends a four-year college. That’s half the rate of the general population. College completion rates are also low.
Part of the issue seems to be that some students aren’t asking for help. Only one in four students who received in high school told their college that they needed services. And while 94 percent of students with learning disabilities receive accommodations or supports while in high school, only 17 percent of them do so once they get to college.
The reasons vary. Some students don’t want to disclose issues to their college. However, others want accommodations but don’t know how to get them. And students sometimes encounter faculty and staff who don’t know what they are required to do, Jones says. “We get a lot of calls from parents saying this is a real problem at colleges. That’s why this center is clearly needed.”
The TA Center is the result of a long road of outreach to Congress. Language about creating the center was included in the 2008 reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act. But it took years of work by organizations like NCLD, Oak Foundation and others to get the funding passed. (Both NCLD and Oak Foundation are Understood founding partners.)
Support from retiring Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) was also key to the push for the TA Center. When the funding passed last month, Harkin said:
“The is the piece of legislation I am most proud of in my career. As I retire from the Senate, I will look back at the last Labor-HHS bill fondly, knowing that we were able to create a National Center to support the educational success of students with disabilities. The National Center will go a long way in helping students with disabilities make the transition from high school to so that they have the tools they need for college success and can lay the foundation to accomplish their dreams.”
A few steps remain before college students can benefit. The U.S. Department of Education must still determine who will run the TA Center. That will be done though a competitive bidding process.
NCLD looks forward to the center being up and running by 2016, Jones says.
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Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for