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An Institutional Perspective on Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education
NCES 1999046
August 1999

Executive Summary

Key legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has prompted numerous questions regarding access, support, and accommodations for students with disabilities in postsecondary education institutions. These institutions are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities to ensure equal access to educational opportunities for these students. However, there have been no nationally representative data available from postsecondary institutions about the enrollment of students with disabilities and the support services and accommodations these institutions provide to students with disabilities. Moreover, since no information has been available about the recordkeeping and reporting capabilities of postsecondary institutions regarding students with disabilities, it has been difficult to assess the extent to which postsecondary institutions can provide information about these students.

In response, this study, requested by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), U.S. Department of Education (ED), provides nationally representative data from 2- year and 4-year postsecondary education institutions about students with disabilities. Specifically, the survey, undertaken by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) using the Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS), includes information about (1) enrollments of postsecondary students with disabilities, (2) institutions enrolling students with disabilities, (3) support services and accommodations designed for students with disabilities, (4) education materials and activities designed to assist faculty and staff in working with students with disabilities, and (5) institutional records and reporting about students with disabilities. Information contained in this report is restricted to those students who had identified themselves in some way to the institution as having a disability, since these are the only students about whom the institutions could report. Note that students who identify themselves to the institution as having a disability are a subset of all students with disabilities, since some students with disabilities may choose not to identify themselves to their institutions.

Key Findings

Number of Postsecondary Students with Disabilities

An estimated 428,280 students with disabilities were enrolled at 2-year and 4-year postsecondary education institutions in 1996-97 or 1997-98. Most of the students were enrolled at public 2- year and public 4-year institutions, and at medium and large institutions. Learning disabilities was the most frequent disability, with almost half of the students with disabilities (195,870 out of 428,280 students) in this category. Institutions reported 59,650 students with mobility or orthopedic impairments, 49,570 students with health impairments or problems, and 33,260 students with mental illness or emotional disturbance. Institutions also reported 23,860 students with a hearing impairment, 18,650 students that were blind or visually impaired, and 4,020 students that had a speech or language impairment. The remaining 38,410 students were reported by the institutions in the "other, specify" category.

Institutions Enrolling Students with Disabilities

About three-quarters (72 percent) of the nation's 5,040 2-year and 4-year postsecondary education institutions enrolled students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98. Almost all (98 percent) public 2-year and public 4-year institutions enrolled students with disabilities, compared with 63 percent of private 4-year and 47 percent of private 2-year institutions. Virtually all medium and large institutions (99 and 100 percent, respectively) enrolled students with disabilities, compared with 63 percent of small institutions.

Support Services and Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Almost all (98 percent) of the institutions that enrolled students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98 had provided at least one support service or accommodation to a student with disabilities. Most institutions (88 percent) had provided alternative exam formats or additional time, and 77 percent provided tutors to assist with ongoing coursework. Readers, classroom notetakers, or scribes were provided by 69 percent of the institutions, and registration assistance or priority class registration were provided by 62 percent. Institutions also frequently provided adaptive equipment or technology, such as assistive listening devices or talking computers (58 percent), and textbooks on tape (55 percent). Sign language interpreters/transliterators were provided by 45 percent of the institutions, and course substitutions or waivers by 42 percent. Various other support services were provided by one-third or fewer of the institutions. In general, public 2-year and 4-year institutions were more likely than private 2-year and 4-year institutions to have provided a service or accommodation, and medium and large institutions were more likely than small institutions to have provided a service or accommodation. Large institutions were also more likely than medium institutions to have provided many of the services.

Materials and Activities Designed for Working with Students with Disabilities

Almost all (95 percent) of the institutions that enrolled students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98 provided at least one kind of educational material or activity for faculty and staff designed to assist them in working with students with disabilities. Most of these institutions (92 percent) provided one-on-one discussions with faculty and staff who request information and assistance, 63 percent provided workshops and presentations to faculty groups, 62 percent had information resources available for faculty and staff use, 41 percent had a faculty/staff handbook, and 32 percent did annual mailings to faculty and staff.

Records About Students with Disabilities

Twenty-eight percent of the institutions indicated that their counts of students with disabilities included only those students to whom services or accommodations were provided; 38 percent reported that their counts were based on students who provided verification of their disabilities, regardless of whether services or accommodations were provided; 22 percent included students who identified themselves to the disability support services office or coordinator, regardless of verification or provision of services; and 12 percent said that their counts were based on all students that had been reported to the disability support services office or coordinator, regardless of whether that office had any contact with them. About three-quarters of the institutions indicated that their records currently contained information about level (undergraduate/graduate), and about two-thirds indicated that the records contained information about sex, age or date of birth, and major field of study/program. Attendance status (full or part time) was included by 59 percent of the institutions, race/ethnicity by 49 percent, and certificates or degrees awarded by 45 percent of the institutions. About a third of the institutions included information about whether a student receives financial aid. Information not currently contained in the records about students with disabilities could be added or merged to the records by almost all the institutions without the information on their records.

Half of the institutions reported that their records about students with disabilities are maintained only in paper files by the office or person responsible for providing support services to students with disabilities, and 20 percent indicated that the records are maintained in a separate computerized database by the disability support services office or coordinator. Records are maintained in a computerized database as part of the general student record system and are accessible to various institutional offices at 13 percent of the institutions. They are part of the general student record system but accessible only to the disability support services office or coordinator at 8 percent of the institutions. Nine percent of the institutions reported that they maintained no formal records about students with disabilities.

Related Report

This PEQIS study complements another NCES report, Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Preparation, Participation, and Outcomes. The report, released in June and also requested by OSERS, profiles students with disabilities, while this PEQIS report profiles postsecondary institutions. That is, the report released in June is based on student self-reports, while the PEQIS study is based on institutional reports. The report that profiles students with disabilities is based on an analysis of four different surveys conducted by NCES, which were used to address the following four issues: (1) enrollment in postsecondary education, (2) access to postsecondary education, (3) persistence to degree attainment, and (4) early labor market outcomes and graduate school enrollment rates of college graduates with disabilities.1


1 Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Preparation, Participation, and Outcomes can be accessed through the NCES web site (http://nces.ed.gov) or by calling 1-877-4ED-Pubs.

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