Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has changed the lives of students with disabilities in terms of their participation
in the general education curriculum and high school graduation (Brinckerhoff, McGuire & Shaw, 2002). As a result, students with
disabilities students have made significant strides toward fulfilling their expectation to be fully integrated into adult life. In
fact, they have the same life objectives (i.e., employment success, community participation, and economic security) as students
without disabilities (Henderson, 2001).
Transition planning has broadened the awareness and preparation of high school students with disabilities for postsecondary education
(e.g., GED, community college, adult education, vocational education, four-year college, graduate education), as factor for successful
employment. Within two decades, the percentage of full-time college freshmen with disabilities increased from 2.3% in 1978 to 9.8% in
1998 (Henderson, 1999). Clearly, the doors to higher education have opened for these students.
Despite such progress, the Report of the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education (2002) states that "students
with disabilities who elect to continue their education at the post-secondary level face significant barriers to achieving their
goals" (p. 48). College participation and, more important, graduation rates do not approach those for students without
disabilities. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Education (2000) reports that students with disabilities "who enroll in a two-year
program with the intention of transferring to a four-year school do not, and students with disabilities are less likely to persist
in earning a postsecondary degree or credential than peers without disabilities" (p. 16). If President Bush's New Freedom Initiative
(Bush, 2001) to expand educational opportunities and increase the ability of people with disabilities to integrate into the work force
and live independent, self-sufficient lives is to become a reality, access to postsecondary education and strategies to enhance
graduation rates from postsecondary education for students with disabilities must become a priority.
Recommendations by the Council for Learning Disabilities
The Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD), a professional organization of approximately 1,200 members that promotes effective
teaching and research, strongly concurs with the recommendation of the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education to
"Support higher education faculty, administrators and auxiliary service providers to more effectively provide and help post-secondary
students with disabilities to complete a high quality post-secondary education" (p. 45). To fulfill that mandate, the Council
for Learning Disabilities recommends increased funding for the Demonstration Projects to Ensure Quality Higher Education for Students
with Disabilities. Specifically, we request that Congress appropriate 10 million dollars in Part D, Title VII, of the Higher Education
Act of 1965 as amended by the HEA in 1998. This modest investment in higher education would continue the first and only focused
effort, begun in 1999, to provide staff development for college faculty through Demonstration Projects that focus on methods to ensure
equal opportunity for college students with disabilities.
In addition, the Council for Learning Disabilities recommends broadening the Demonstration Projects to include staff development for
postsecondary disability personnel working in Offices for Students with Disabilities. Almost no preservice training is available for
postsecondary disability personnel regarding programs and services for college students with disabilities. Recently developed
postsecondary disability Professional Standards and Program Standards now provide a research base for such training (Shaw & Dukes,
2001). Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (1999) indicate that students with disabilities who do manage to graduate
from college exhibit similar labor market outcomes as their counterparts without disabilities (i.e., employment rates and annual
salaries of the two groups do not differ significantly). This initiative will reap enormous benefits for students with disabilities in
terms of their college graduation, successful transition to employment, and self-sufficiency as citizens of a nation that prides itself
on equality of opportunity. CLD urges Congress to consider the potential that this investment can have in substantially expanding
educational opportunities and employment outcomes for postsecondary education students with disabilities.
In support of the President's consistent focus on outcomes for students with disabilities, the Council for Learning Disabilities
proposes the creation of The National Longitudinal Postsecondary Education Study to assess outcomes for students with disabilities who
have participated in postsecondary education.Limited data are available on outcomes for adults with disabilities as these relate to
post-high school educational experience. The National Transition Longitudinal Study (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996), a comprehensive effort
to gather post-high school outcome data on graduates with disabilities now in its second iteration, has been tremendously helpful in
focusing teacher preparation, research and policy on critical needs in the secondary education system. It has also provided data on the
effectiveness of various policies and interventions that have fostered widespread use of research-based practices. CLD expects that the
National Longitudinal Postsecondary Education Study will have the same productive results.
Furthermore, the Council for Learning Disabilities proposes funding of Model Demonstration Projects of Exemplary Practices in
Postsecondary Disability Services. This initiative will implement and evaluate interventions (e.g., support services, strategic
instruction, self-determination, tutoring, coaching) to generate empirical data identifying which postsecondary practices provide for
positive outcomes (i.e., college graduation, employment). Although postsecondary supports for students with disabilities have been
more available in recent years, there is little research to determine the efficacy of these services (Brinckerhoff et al., 2002),
resulting in calls for a more systematic approach to service provision for students with disabilities (Shaw & Dukes, 2001). Although
the growth in services for these students likely indicates a sincere desire on the part of colleges and universities to meet the needs
of this population, services must be "grounded in theory or supported by evaluation data" (McGuire, Norlander, & Shaw, 1990, p. 71) to
be most effective. CLD believes that such Model Demonstration Projects will provide the data to enhance postsecondary outcomes for
students with disabilities.
Teacher Preparation and Recruitment
The Report of the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education (2002) notes with alarm that there is a shortage of
personnel adequately trained to provide special education and related services to children with disabilities. According to the U.S.
Department of Education funded SPeNSE study more than 12,000 openings for special education teachers were left vacant or filled by
substitutes in 1999-2000. Ninety-eight percent of school districts report special education teacher shortages. Roughly 10 percent of
special education positions nationally-39,140 positions-are filled by uncertified personnel who serve approximately 600,000 students
with disabilities. (p. 52)
In a recent study Smith, Pion, Tyler, Sindelar and Rosenberg (2001) note that research clearly links the data on unqualified and
unprepared teachers with poor student outcomes. On the other hand, special educators who rated their preservice preparation as
"very good" considered themselves more successful than others in providing services and found their workload more manageable. The
Commission addresses these points by recommending that institutions of higher education implement data-driven systems to improve how
well educators teach children with disabilities. The Commission further recommends that all students be required to complete supervised
practicum experiences in each year of their training.
Recommendations by the Council for Learning Disabilities
The Council for Learning Disabilities supports the Commission's call to enhance personnel preparation in an effort to turn out
professionals who are trained to effectively foster productive outcomes for students with disabilities. To that end, the Council
for Learning Disabilities recommends that the Higher Education Act provide resources for states and institutions of higher education
to raise standards and create incentives for attracting individuals to personnel preparation programs. In addition, CLD recommends that
funding be provided to institutions of higher education to address faculty shortages and to foster development and implementation of
high-quality teacher education programs that feature ongoing field experiences with reflective seminars, integration of general and
special education students, intensive internships and implementation of school-university partnerships. We concur with the
President's Commission that "these improvements are critical elements that will bring about change in how well we serve children
with disabilities in our nation's schools" (2002, p. 57).
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Smith, D.S., Pion, G., Tyler, N. C., Sindelar, P., & Rosenberg, M. (2001). The study of special education leadership personnel: With particular attention to the professoriate. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University, Gainesville: University of Florida, & Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University.
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