The Higher Education Act (HEA) is the nation’s federal law that governs college and other post-secondary programs. Originally written in 1965, the legislation was most recently updated in 2008. This year, Congress plans to update the law again and we will have a chance to make changes that will improve access and outcomes for students with disabilities who want to pursue higher education.
There are two important issues that HEA can address to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.
Increasing access to college for students with disabilities
Currently, students with disabilities attend 4-year colleges at half the rate of other students. Less than half who attend actually complete college. And very few students with LD in college disclose their disability to seek the accommodations they need. To increase students with disabilities’ access to college, NCLD is urging Congress to:
- Include the Respond, Innovate,Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act: This legislation allows students with disabilities to submit their IEP, 504 plan, or prior evaluation as proof of their disability. Additionally, the legislation provides students with information on disability services and resources for college faculty on best practices to support students with disabilities;
- Increase funding for the National Technical Assistance Center: The TA center provides students and their families access to information regarding services, supports, and accommodations; and
- Include the definition of “universal design for learning” (UDL): UDL is a method of teaching students that allows instructors to meet students where they are and provide flexibility in the ways students access material, engage with it and show what they know.
Preparing teachers to serve diverse learners
We know that getting students with disabilities into college is not enough. We must also ensure that college students who are pursuing a career in teaching are prepared to address the needs of all students, including students with disabilities, when they enter the classroom as an educator. Research from RAND shows that teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement compared to any other in-school factor. It is imperative that our schools have rigorously prepared teachers address the needs of all students, including students with disabilities. Unfortunately, many teachers lack important knowledge and skills they need to effectively instruct all students. For example, more than half of the students do not feel equipped to properly implements IEPs and 504 plans for students with disabilities and 70% feel they don’t have the resources they need to provide instruction, related services and support to children with learning and attention issues. (We should cite this)
HEA governs teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities and can ensure that college students who are studying to become teachers actually receive the instruction and real-world teaching experience they need to be prepared when they enter the classroom. To achieve this goal we are urging Congress to:
- Retain and increase funding for Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grants, which can provide teachers access to residency preparation programs in much-needed areas such as special education;
- Retain and increase funding for TEACH Grants, which can be used to attract more teacher candidates to the field of special education; and
- Strengthen the requirements of teacher preparation programs so candidates are able to demonstrate mastery of teaching diverse learners.
These changes to HEA will ensure that students with disabilities are supported in their education and have the opportunity to access and succeed in college. NCLD will continue to advocate for these changes to be included in the reauthorization of the HEA. Be sure to sign up for updates from NCLD to stay informed and learn how you can help!