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Higher Education

Girl With Down Syndrome StudyingPolicy Priority:  Higher Education Opportunity 


COPAA is premised on the belief that every child deserves the right to an equal and quality education that prepares them for meaningful employment, higher education and lifelong learning, and full participation in his or her community. In order for more students with disabilities to successfully transition to postsecondary settings as well as to improve access to quality higher education for students with disabilities, COPAA recommends:


I.      Teacher preparation programs must focus on providing educators knowledge and skill in application of empirically based practices that have been proven to close the equity and achievement gaps in support of students with disabilities.

II.    Teacher preparation programs must provide teacher candidates with knowledge to competently apply principles of universal design for learning and to skillfully determine and utilize individualized accommodations for instruction and assessment for qualified students.  

III.   Grant program(s) targeting the training of school leaders (e.g. principals and administrators) must require knowledge and training in key research-based strategies (e.g. PBIS, MTSS, UDL) to assure the success of all students, including those with disabilities.

IV.   Colleges and universities must assure non-discrimination of all persons with disabilities in accordance with the language of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 including timely and usable access to instructional materials, technologies and devices, and operating systems.  This access is essential for students with disabilities to realize full and meaningful participation in higher education.  Unfortunately hundreds, if not thousands of students with print disabilities are denied access to the materials they need to have an equal opportunity to pursue the educations for which they are qualified because those materials are not available in accessible format in the collections of college and university libraries.[1]

V.    College and university Disability Service professionals must actively provide young adults with disabilities the accommodations they require and are entitled to under the law to achieve academically; gain self-advocacy skills; and have the opportunity to persevere to graduation.

VI.   Higher Education programs, grants, and initiatives must be based on evidence based practices effective in supporting students with disabilities transitioning from high school to: work; post-secondary education; and, other post-high school options that lead to career, employment and independent living. 

VII. The comprehensive transition and post-secondary program for students with intellectual disabilities must be continued; and preferably expanded and strengthened to increase access and meaningful participation for students with disabilities. Prior to the 2008 Re-authorization The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) conducted a study of Institutes of Higher Educations  (IHEs) serving students with intellectual disabilities (ID) [2]  and found:

·         Only 60% of IHEs serving students with ID indicated that these students were formally enrolled

·         Only 18% of IHEs reported that academic course access was the program’s primary goal

·         Only 51% of the IHEs offered access to credit-bearing college courses and only 57% offered access to non-credit college classes

·         45% of IHE respondents indicated that over three-quarters of the instruction students received in their program was provided only with other students with ID

·         28% of IHEs indicated that although they provided residential access to students, they did not provide it to students with ID.


The inclusion of comprehensive transition and postsecondary program in the 2008 reauthorization of the HEOA offered the first federal guidance related to the provision of higher education services for people with an ID by creating and defining the comprehensive transition and postsecondary program for students with an ID.  COPAA is strongly supportive of efforts to promote the creation of fully inclusive, individual support PSE models, and believes the Congressional intent outlined in the HEOA calls for a continued strong federal investment in such models.

[1] Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (AIM Commission) Report issued 12/ 6/2011, available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/aim/publications.html

[2] Grigal, M., Hart, D., &Weir, C. (2012). A survey of postsecondary education programs for students with intellectual disabilities in the United States. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 9(4), 223-233.  

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