Transition from High School to College

It's a whole new world out there! Different laws apply.
IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are very different, leading to miscommunication between college and high school staffs who have studied only the statues applying to their institution. In high schools, for example, under IDEA, special education program procedures may apply primarily to Learning Disabilities. High school students who are in wheelchairs, may fall under a subpart of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and be referred to as their “504” clients. They will develop IEPs (Individual Education Plans) for these students simply because that is the procedure they have been required to follow under their IDEA mandated program. However, Section 504 does not create a requirement for IEPs in either high school or post-secondary institutions.
The misunderstanding comes from the practice of assuming that the “IEP” or "504 Plan" developed at a high school will be binding on a college or university. The IEP (an IDEA vehicle) no longer exists. And different aspects of Section 504 apply to high schools and colleges.
High School​ Post-Secondary​
​Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
​Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ​Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
​Americans with Disabilities Act ​Americans with Disabilities Act
​Civil Rights Restoration Act ​Civil Rights Restoration Act

Big Things to Remember

Students in colleges and universities are considered adults, with privacy and confidentiality protections. College staff cannot talk with parents and guardians about a student’s academic activities as was typical in K-12.
Eligibility for special education services in high schools is diagnosis driven (i.e., the student must be diagnosed as having one of eleven specified conditions). Eligibility for reasonable accommodations in post-secondary institutions is driven by severity of impact on a major life activity (i.e., “a mental or physical impairment that significantly limits a major life activity”).
College students must structure and plan their own study time; colleges do not arrange study periods or provide for time to do homework during classes.
Professors and classes may differ regarding attendance requirement, scheduling assignment due dates and exams. The student must study each professor’s syllabus for each class.
Students with disabilities must act to identify their disabilities; must take specific action to request those accommodations for their disabilities, if desiring to request accommodations; and must provide verifying documentation such a psycho-educational test results, medical documents and doctor’s statements.
The documentation must verify the disability, describe the extent of the impairment and provide information that supports the need for specific accommodation.
High School Responsibilities​ Post-Secondary Institution Responsibilities​
​Identify students with disabilities ​Inform students of office location and procedures for requesting accommodations
​Provide assessment of learning disabilities ​Accept and evaluate verifying documentation. Even though it is not required, some colleges provide assessment
​Provide a free and appropriate education ​Inform students of their rights and responsibilities
​Involve parents or guardians in placement decisions ​Protect a student’s right to privacy and confidentiality
 (Other differences may exist for post-secondary institutions that provide housing programs, health services, psychological/counseling services, and extensive international programs.)
Post-Secondary students have a responsibility to:
  • Self identify or disclose their disability to the designated office for disability services.
  • Provide verifying documentation to that designated office.
  • Obtain assessment and test results and provide them to that office.
  • Act as independent adults
  • Arrange their own weekly schedules
  • Contact their instructors to activate and adopt accommodations for each class.
  • Arrange for and obtain their own personal attendants, tutoring and individually fitted or designed assistive technologies.

Post-Secondary institutions are not required to:

  • Reduce or waive any of the essential requirements of a course or program
  • Conduct testing and assessment of learning, psychological or medical disabilities
  • Provide personal attendants
  • Provide personal or private tutors (but tutoring services normally available to persons without disabilities must be accessible to persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified for those services)
  • Prepare “Individual Education Plans” (IEPs)