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


The increased enrollment of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education, along with key legislation such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), have prompted numerous questions regarding access, support, and accommodations in postsecondary education institutions. However, while there have been a few self-report studies of various groups of postsecondary students with disabilities,2 there have been no nationally representative data available from postsecondary institutions about the enrollment of students with disabilities or the support services and accommodations they provide to these students. 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 and the feasibility of regularly collecting information about students with disabilities from the institutions.

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), U.S. Department of Education (ED), 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, by specific disability category and the total with any disability. 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, including the duplicated or unduplicated nature of the specific and total counts, which students are represented in the counts, how records about students with disabilities are maintained by the institution, and what variables are contained on the records. OSERS will use this information to 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 (IPEDS). Additional questions asked about whether the institution provided special support services or accommodations designed for students with disabilities, institutional verification of disabilities, work with the state vocational rehabilitation agency, educational materials or activities designed to assist faculty and staff in working with students with disabilities, special outreach or recruitment materials designed specifically to recruit students with disabilities, and institutional planning for the purchase and implementation of new technologies.

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.

The following institutional characteristics were used as variables for analyzing the survey data:

  • Type of institution: public 2-year, private 2- year, public 4-year, private 4-year.
  • Region: Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West.
  • Size of institution: less than 3,000 students (small), 3,000 to 9,999 students (medium), and 10,000 or more students (large).

The analysis variables, particularly institutional type and size, are related to each other. For example, virtually all (99.9 percent) private 2- year and 89 percent of private 4-year institutions are small, compared with 57 percent of public 2- year and 25 percent of public 4-year institutions. Among large institutions, 56 percent are public 4- year and 34 percent are public 2-year institutions, compared with 11 percent private 4-year institutions and no private 2-year institutions (as estimated by this sample). Because of these relationships, differences on survey items tend to covary by these analysis variables. This report focuses on presenting the findings by institutional type and size, but the findings by region are presented in the tables for those interested in this variable.

The survey was conducted in spring of 1998 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) using the Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS). PEQIS is designed to collect limited amounts of policyrelevant information on a quick turn-around basis from a previously recruited, nationally representative sample of postsecondary institutions. PEQIS surveys are limited to three pages of questions with a response burden of about 30 minutes per respondent.3 The survey was mailed to the PEQIS survey coordinators at 1,084 2-year and 4-year postsecondary education institutions. Coordinators were told that the survey was designed to be completed by the person or office most knowledgeable about students with disabilities and the services provided to them by the institution. Institutions were asked to report for the 1996-97 12-month academic year if possible, but they could provide information for the current school year (1997-98) if information for 1996-97 was not available. The unweighted survey response rate was 91 percent; the weighted survey response rate was also 91 percent. Data were adjusted for questionnaire nonresponse and weighted to provide national estimates. Section 7 of this report provides a more detailed discussion of the sample and survey methodology. The survey questionnaire is reproduced in appendix B. All specific statements of comparisons made in this report have been tested for statistical significance through chi-square tests and t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment and are significant at the 95 percent confidence level or better. However, not all statistically different comparisons have been presented, since some were judged to be not of substantive importance.

2 See the NCES report Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Preparation, Participation, and Outcomes (NCES 1999-187) for a discussion of some of these studies.
3Additional information about PEQIS is presented in the methodology section of this report.