Transition from High School to College for Students with Learning Disabilities: Needs, Assessment, and Services

Article excerpt

More than 130,000 students with learning disabilities attend college in this country and the numbers continue to increase (Matthews, Anderson, & Skolnick, 1987). One reason for the influx of students with learning disabilities into college is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This Act required colleges receiving federal funds to provide services and programming to individuals with disabilities. Postsecondary institutions are required by law to make reasonable accommodations to ensure the success of students with disabilities, including those with learning disabilities.

Increasing numbers of persons with learning disabilities who are now entering college have been found to have special needs related to both academic survival and career development that are often unrecognized and unmet in institutions of higher education. Students with learning disabilities may require considerable intervention before vocational decisions can be made. As such, they are in need of, and required by law to be provided with, services that are designed to assist them in making the transition from high school to postsecondary education. In the landmark document "OSERS Programming for the Transition of Youth with Disabilities: Bridges from School to Working Life", Madeline Will of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services defined transition as follows:

   The transition from school to working life is an outcome oriented process
   encompassing a broad array of services and experiences that lead to
   employment. Transition is a period that includes high school, the point of
   graduation, additional postsecondary education or adult services, and the
   initial years of employment. Transition is a bridge between the security
   and structure offered by the school and the opportunities and risks of
   adult life. Any bridge requires both a solid span and a secure foundation
   at either end. The transition from school to work and adult life requires
   sound preparation in the secondary school, adequate support at the point of
   school leaving, and secure opportunities and services, if needed, in adult
   situations. (Will, 1986; p. 10)

In October, 1990, Congress enacted the Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1990 (P.L. 101-476), an amendment of P.L. 94-142, the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA). Under this law, the name EHA was changed to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA includes a definition of transition that is currently the basis for many school-based transition programs. Section 602(a) of IDEA defines transition services as:

   A coordinated set of activities for a student, designed within an
   outcome-oriented process, which promotes movement from school to
   post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational
   training, integrated employment (including supported employment),
   continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or
   community participation. The coordinated set of activities shall be based
   upon the individual student's needs, taking into account the student's
   preferences and interests, and shall include instruction, community
   experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult
   living objectives, and, if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills
   and functional vocational evaluation (Education of the Handicapped Act
   Amendments of 1990, P.L. 101-476, Section 602(a) [20 U.S.C. 1401(a)].

P.L. 101-476 requires that a student's Individual Education Plan (IEP) address the issue of transition, and that transition planning be initiated by at least age 16. Unfortunately, transition services which are initiated just prior to high school graduation are bound to be ineffective. Clearly, the skills students need to be successful in college and other post high school settings take years to nurture and develop. …