Preparing Students for Postsecondary Education

By Hong, Barbara S. S.; Ivy, W. Fred et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

Preparing Students for Postsecondary Education


Hong, Barbara S. S., Ivy, W. Fred, Gonzalez, Humberto R., Ehrensberger, Wendy, Teaching Exceptional Children


Students with disabilities are increasingly enrolled in postsecondary education, yet many of them are not prepared to cope with the rigor of higher education. Students who do not have the skills of self-empowerment often experience frustration and discouragement in the postsecondary setting, leading to their dropping out of school and eventually experiencing less positive outcomes. At the same time, many higher education faculty members are not aware of how to work with students with disabilities, nor are they familiar with policies related to student rights and accommodations. There are some practical strategies for faculty, as well as K-12 teachers, to help students with and without disabilities develop skills of self-advocacy, self-regulation, internal locus of control, and self-knowledge-so they can become empowered to take responsibility for their own learning.

According to the 2006 National Longitudinal "Transition Study (Wagner, Newman, Gameto, Levine, & Garza, 2006), the percentage of students with disabilities completing high school increased by 17% between 1987 and 2003, with a corresponding 32% increase in enrollment in some kind of postsecondary schools (National Council on Disability, 2003; Wagner et al). However, more than half of these students are at risk of failure (Jones, 2002; National Council on Disability, 2003). The National Council on Disability (2004) reports that one of the major reasons for this high dropout rate is that university students with disabilities are not prepared to cope with the rigor of postsecondary education. Support services for transition between secondary schools and higher education are often fragmented and inconsistent in helping students develop requisite skills for postsecondary education (Dukes & Shaw, 1999; Izzo, Hertzfeld, & Aaron, 2001; National Council on Disability, 2004; Stodden, Jones & Chang, 2002). In addition, there is a lack of collaboration at the higher education level between faculty and an institution's office of student services when it comes to providing services to help prepare students for disability-related challenges they may encounter in the postsecondary setting (Hitchings et al., 2001; Izzo et al.; National Council on Disability, 2004; Sitlington, Clark, & Kolstoe, 2000).

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires students with disabilities to disclose their disabilities to their institution if they wish to receive reasonable accommodations. In postsecondary education, classroom accommodations are described as "appropriate academic adjustments" (104.44(e)(a)). Many higher education faculty have not worked with people with disabilities, and have received little preparation in meeting their needs (National Council on Disability, 2003). When students with disabilities do disclose their disabilities, oftentimes faculty members simply do not have sufficient knowledge to assist them. In fact, many parents, students, faculty, and high school counselors themselves are not aware of the policy differences for students with disabilities in terms of rights, services, and funding as a result of IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (National Center for the Study of Postsecondary Educational Supports, NCSPES, 2002; Stodden, Conway, & Chang, 2003).

It is not unusual for faculty members to believe that students with disabilities accepted into a university program must have met the same admission requirements as all other students and should have the skills to function and compete on the same playing field. In fact, students with disabilities often feel insecure when they leave the traditional classroom setting to enter higher education (Hitchings et al., 2001; National Council on Disability, 2004). Instruction is at a faster pace, coursework requires more reading, assignments demand higher-order thinking, writing is more technical, and study habits call for more independent problem solving and selfstrategizing (Rosenbaum, 2004). …

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