The Transition from High School to College

A Guide for Students with Disabilities and their Parents

IDEA vs. Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The transition from high school to college can be a challenging process for students with disabilities. The laws governing college/university education are different from those governing K-12 and so is the accommodation process. Students with disabilities who received accommodations in high school should be aware that colleges/universities do not necessarily provide the same accommodations and/or supports set forth in their IEP or 504 Plan and in some cases, may conclude that the student does not meet the criteria to qualify for accommodations. What follows is an explanation of some of the key differences between IDEA (governing K-12) and 504/ADA (governing post-secondary education).

High schools must:

  • Identify students with disabilities.
  • Provide periodic assessments of learning and other disabilities at no cost to the parents.
  • Involve parents in decision-making and ensure that all decisions are made by a team.
  • Provide non-academic and related services.
  • Structure the student’s weekly schedule.
  • Modify educational programs, including the curriculum.
  • Prepare Individual Education Plans (IEPs)or 504 plans on an annual basis.
  • Provide a free and appropriate education.
  • Monitor the implementation of the student’s plans and change them if the student is not successful.
  • Periodically notify the parents about the student’s performance in relationship to his/her IEP goals.
  • Address behavioral issues without expelling a student for disability-related misconduct.

Post-secondary institutions must:

  • Protect the student’s right to privacy and confidentiality (this includes conversations with parents).
  • Provide access to programs and services that are offered to non-disabled students.
  • Make information available to students regarding office locations and procedures for requesting accommodations.
  • Interpret documentation which is submitted by the student at the student’s expense. In consultation with the student, the college determines whether the student is disabled and what accommodations may be appropriate and necessary.
  • Determine whether the student’s disability substantially limits the ability to read, learn, hear, speak, sleep, breathe, walk, see, perform manual tasks or care for oneself.
Substantially Limits means unable to perform a major life activity, or significantly restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which a major life activity can be performed, in comparison to the average person or most people. (Jane Jarrow, 1992).
  • Determine whether a student is otherwise qualified, with or without accommodations, and whether reasonable accommodations are possible.
  • Provide reasonable accommodations at no cost to the student which are necessary for the student to access the educational program. A college is not obligated to provide accommodations that would maximize the student’s potential and a college is not required to substantially modify its program or lower its academic standards.
  • Provide reasonable and equal access to generally available programs.
  • Make reasonable classroom adjustments that do not alter the integrity or essential components or technical standards of a course or program.
  • Ensure that students participating in off-campus programs are afforded equal access.
  • Inform students of their rights and responsibilities.

Post-secondary institutions are not required to:

  • Reduce or waive the essential requirements of a course or program.
  • Provide disability assessment.
  • Provide specially designed instruction; but rather must ensure that instruction and educational materials are made accessible.
  • Provide personal attendants or any service or device that is personal in nature.
  • Provide tutorial support beyond what is available to all students.
  • Prepare IEPs or plans.
  • Ensure a student reaches his/her maximum potential.
  • Keep parents informed.
  • Monitor a student’s performance.
  • Alter its conduct code.

The student is responsible for:

  • Disclosing his/her disability to the appropriate office and providing documentation in a timely manner. The college has the right to establish its own documentation policy and timeline.
  • Identifying appropriate accommodations, which are supported by the student’s documentation.
  • Acting on his/her own behalf as an independent adult. It is the student’s job to advocate for himself/herself, not the parent’s.
  • Discussing classroom and testing accommodations in a timely manner with instructors in accordance with college policy.
  • Arranging for personal attendants or specifically designed assistive technologies that are personal in nature.
  • Working together with the dean of students office in securing and implementing accommodations.
  • Notifying the dean of students office when the student is having difficulty securing accommodations or is dissatisfied with the quality or effectiveness of the accommodations.
  • Meeting all of the college program’s or degree’s essential academic and technical standards, with or without reasonable accommodation.

*Some of this material was borrowed from Lehigh University's Web page.

Important Things to Remember:

In high school, students with diagnosed disabilities are entitled to specific services and accommodations. In college, the severity and degree of functional impact of the disability is taken into consideration when determining whether accommodations are appropriate—a diagnosis alone does not determine eligibility. Also, these accommodations are intended to provide access, not ensure success.

Students who attend college are considered to be adults, protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). With limited exceptions, college staff may not talk to parents about confidential information, including academic activities. Parents need to talk to the student directly. Students act as responsible adults when disclosing disabilities and requesting accommodations.

Documentation requirements are different at every school. It is the student’s responsibility to know and understand the college’s documentation policy and procedures. Documentation should be current, verify the disability, describe the extent/severity of the impairment, provide information on the functional impact of the disability, and suggest appropriate accommodations that may be necessary for the student to be successful in college.