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

Summary

The increased enrollment of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education, along with key legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, has prompted numerous questions regarding access, support, and accommodations in postsecondary education institutions. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education, requested this study on students with disabilities at postsecondary education institutions. It was designed to provide nationally representative data from postsecondary education institutions about enrollments of students with disabilities and the support services and accommodations they provide to these students. These are the first nationally representative data collected from institutions about these students. The study also obtained information regarding institutional records and reporting about students with disabilities. OSERS will use this information to help them assess the feasibility of collecting information from institutions about students with disabilities as part of existing ED data collections, such as the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

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. Sixty percent of institutions enrolled students with specific learning disabilities, and 56 percent enrolled students with mobility or orthopedic impairments. Many institutions also enrolled students with hearing impairments (48 percent), who were blind or visually impaired (46 percent), had health impairments or problems (45 percent), or who reported a mental illness or emotional disturbance (39 percent). About a fifth of the institutions enrolled students with speech or language impairments (18 percent), or specified some other disability (21 percent). For each of the disability categories, public 2-year and public 4-year institutions were much more likely than private 2-year and private 4-year institutions, and medium and large institutions were much more likely than small institutions, to enroll students with that disability.

An estimated 428,280 students with disabilities were enrolled at 2-year and 4-year postsecondary education institutions in 1996-97 or 1997-98. The number of students with disabilities represents only 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. Consistent with the distributions of the percentage of institutions that enrolled students with disabilities, most of the students with disabilities were enrolled at public 2-year and public 4-year institutions and at medium and large institutions. Specific 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. Most institutions (88 percent) reported unduplicated counts of students by specific disabilities (i.e., students were counted by their only or their primary disability), 10 percent reported duplicated counts (i.e., students were counted for each disability they have or each disability for which services were provided), and 2 percent of the institutions could not report any information about the specific disabilities of their students. Most institutions (92 percent) also reported an unduplicated count of the total number of students with disabilities. There was little variation by institutional type and size in the type of counts reported.

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. Eighty-four percent of institutions that enrolled students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98 required verification of student disabilities. Most institutions that enrolled students with disabilities and required verification accepted a medical evaluation/statement or a psychological evaluation/ statement as verification; about threequarters accepted a vocational rehabilitation agency evaluation. About a quarter of the institutions indicated that testing or formal evaluation by the institution's disability support services office or coordinator was accepted, and about a quarter indicated that they accepted an informal evaluation or determination by the institution's disability support services office or coordinator as verification.

Almost all (98 percent) of the institutions that enrolled students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98 had provided at least one special support service or accommodation designed for disabled students to a student with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98. 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. About three-quarters (73 percent) of the institutions that enrolled students with disabilities indicated that they worked, either formally or informally, with the state vocational rehabilitation agency regarding students with disabilities.

Sixty-three percent of institutions that enrolled students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98 indicated that they have an institution-wide formal planning process for the purchase and implementation of new technologies, such as the upgrading or replacement of computers and telephones. Among those institutions that enrolled students with disabilities and that have an institution-wide formal planning process, 55 percent indicated that the planning process explicitly considers the needs of students with disabilities, and 59 percent indicated that the planning process requests input from the disability support services office or coordinator. 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.

About a quarter (27 percent) of institutions that enrolled students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98 had developed special outreach or recruitment materials or activities designed specifically to recruit students with disabilities. Among the institutions that had developed such materials or activities, most (91 percent) had provided materials to or conducted activities with high school counselors or transition coordinators, and about three-quarters had done so with state vocational rehabilitation agencies. About half of the institutions had provided materials to or conducted activities with other types of vocational rehabilitation agencies, community and civic organizations, and other postsecondary institutions, and about a quarter had done so with businesses or employers.

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. Thus, the majority of records about students with disabilities are maintained by the office or person responsible for providing support services to these students. 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, and 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. Since only about a fifth of institutions maintain their records as part of the general student record system, it is unlikely that reporting about students with disabilities could be easily integrated into existing U.S. Department of Education data collections, such as IPEDS, which rely on the general student record system for information. 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, and most indicated that the information could be added easily.

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