New Federal Law Promotes Success in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-315) (HEOA) was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law in August 2008. Five years overdue and several years in the making, the newly reauthorized Act will now direct the advancement of postsecondary education for at least the next five years.

The Act authorizes a number of new grant programs, imposes a number of new reporting requirements on institutions, attempts to increase the integrity of student loan programs, simplifies the federal student aid application process, and adds provisions meant to control textbook costs, among just a few of its provisions. The Act also has a number of important provisions intended to improve both access and success for students with disabilities in postsecondary education. This article provides an overview of several new provisions specific to students with disabilities.

National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities

This new National Center will provide technical assistance and information on best and promising practices to students with disabilities, the families of students with disabilities, as well as entities awarded grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements to improve the postsecondary recruitment, transition, retention, and completion rates of students with disabilities. Student and family assistance will include information for prospective postsecondary students to use in transition planning while in secondary school; information and technical assistance provided to individualized education program (IEP) teams; research-based supports, services, and accommodations, which are available in postsecondary settings; information on student mentoring and networking opportunities for students with disabilities; and effective recruitment and transition programs at postsecondary educational institutions.

The Center will also maintain a national Web-based database of disability support services information with respect to institutions of higher education, including available information on disability documentation requirements; support services available; links to financial aid; accommodations policies; accessible instructional materials; and other topics relevant to students with disabilities.

Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

The Act establishes a new grant program to promote the successful transition of students with intellectual disabilities into higher education. Grant funds will be made available to institutions of higher education to support the development of programs that provide individual supports and services for the academic and social inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities in academic courses, extracurricular activities, and other aspects of the institution of higher education's regular postsecondary program.

The Act defines "student with an intellectual disability" as a student with mental retardation or a cognitive impairment, characterized by significant limitations in intellectual and cognitive functioning; adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills; and who is currently, or was formerly, eligible for a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Programs funded by this grant program must be designed to support students with intellectual disabilities, who are seeking to continue academic, career, and technical, and independent living instruction at an institution of higher education in order to prepare for gainful employment.

Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities

The Act authorizes a new Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials tasked with conducting a comprehensive study to assess the barriers and systemic issues that interfere with the timely provision of accessible instructional materials and to make recommendations related to the development of a comprehensive approach that can ensure access to these materials in a timeframe comparable to when students without disabilities have standard print textbooks available. …