Disabled students struggle in college

Students With Disabilities Aim For A College Degree, But Often Get Stuck, reports Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post. 

If the U.S. is to lead the world in college graduates by 2020 — President Obama’s — more students with disabilities must go to college and earn degrees, said Sen. Tom Harkin at a committee hearing on the higher education act. “We need to understand the barriers students with disabilities face, and the services and supports that facilitate their success.”

Eighty percent of high school students with disabilities say they want to go to college, but only 60 percent enroll and even fewer complete a credential, said Harkin, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Students have trouble making the transition to college, where they need to become their own advocates, said Melissa Emrey-Arras, director of education, workforce and income security at the Government Accountability Office.

Many don’t ask for help, reports Matt Krupnick. They want to go it alone.

Just a quarter of students who received help for their disabilities in high school acknowledge in college that they need the same assistance, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

And while 94 percent of high school students with learning disabilities get some kind of help, just 17 percent of learning-disabled college students do.

Just 34 percent of learning-disabled students complete a four-year degree within eight years of finishing high school, according to the National Center for Special Education Research. By contrast, 56 percent of all students nationally graduate within six years, reports the National Student Clearinghouse.

In other words, people who have trouble learning have trouble learning in college. But we need to get more of them to go to college.

About Joanne


  1. wahoofive says:

    Why exactly do we “need to get more of them to go to college”? College isn’t some magic wand which gets you a good job (or a better life), and if you need constant help to get through it, that pretty much guarantees that you won’t get any of the supposed benefits of a college degree. No one’s going to hold your hand while you learn a new job. People with learning disabilities aren’t going to become doctors or computer programmers. Degree or no degree, they’re likely to end up as janitors or waitresses or truck drivers. It would be doing them better service to focus our resources on improving the pay and working conditions for those professions, which are still essential to our society, than babying them through college.

    Just because people with college degrees have better jobs and earn more, statistically, than those without, that doesn’t imply a cause-and-effect relation. A more likely reason is that people with more talents in the first place are more likely to go to (and complete) college. We’re going to need the same number of baristas regardless of how many people go to college, so pushing more kids into college will just lead to better-educated baristas.

    • SC Math Teacher says:

      Very well said. If only the ruling class would learn that whole correlation doesn’t imply causation thing. Maybe we’d stop throwing money at these pet “root causes” and wise up.

  2. wahoofive, I think you might be tarring with a rather broad brush. First, the article speaks of “disabilities”, which is too broad to start with (I presume someone who is wheelchair bound is about as likely to complete a degree as someone who is physically agile).

    Second, even “learning disabilities” is too broad for a blanket statement about “janitors” or “waitresses”. After all, lots of folks with Asperger’s do wind up as computer programmers, just to pick one example. Autistic persons might make great artists who benefit from a degree in art history, to pick a random possibility. I think the spectrum of “learning disabilities” is too wide to apply any specific remedy.

    Lastly, the difference between 34 percent and 56 percent is a pretty fine distinction from which to make sweeping admissions or curriculum changes. That kind of difference sounds ripe for a program to arrange for mentors and tutors or an additional faculty advisor or something like that.

    This sounds true to me: “In other words, people who have trouble learning have trouble learning in college.”

    This sounds like an unsupported conclusion: “But we need to get more of them to go to college.”

    • My nephew, who has Asperger’s, earned and a degree in computer science. It took him longer to navigate college: He had to learn to manage his time and organize himself. But he made it. And he has a job!

      “But we need to get more of them to go to college” was meant as sarcasm.