Two lawmakers from opposite sides of the aisle are aiming to make the journey through post-secondary education a little easier for disabled college students.
Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) and Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) introduced Tuesday, June 6 the Respond, Innovate, Support and Empower (RISE) Act, which helps students with disabilities to access special education services in college and earn a degree or credential.
“Too many students with disabilities continue to face barriers to success in higher education,” said Bonamici, a leader on the House Education Committee. “When students transition from high school to higher education, they shouldn’t face hurdles when seeking the support they need. I am pleased to partner with Rep. Bucshon to advance common-sense, bipartisan legislation that will streamline the process for receiving accommodations in college.
“Ultimately, this will help more students get the support they need, earn a degree or credential, and enter the workforce with the skills to succeed,” she said.
When students with disabilities enroll in college, their families often pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for new evaluations to demonstrate a disability, the two lawmakers said.
The RISE Act permits students to submit existing documentation of a disability, such as a 504 plan or an individualized education program (IEP), saving them money and simplifying the process for receiving accommodations on campus.
Additionally, professionals in disability service offices will continue to work with students to develop academic accommodations that are appropriate for each individual.
L. Scott Lisner, chair of the public policy committee for the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and ADA coordinator for Ohio State University, said the act as he knows it will be a great thing.
“I think the requirement to make information on what we do and what’s available is a top notch step,” he said. “It would be good for us to have basic data on disabled students.”
Lisner asserts that there hasn’t traditionally been a request for data on disabled students from colleges documenting their success rate or graduation rate.
“We have to do some tracking to report that, and get a central point so that it will be helpful for policy creation and institutions on every level,” he said.
Lisner said the strengths of the U.S. higher education system remains the range of services, but the downside is “you don’t know what to expect from one campus to the next, compared to Asia.”
Students with disabilities are not as likely as other students to earn a college degree. According to the National Council on Disability, only about one-third of students with disabilities complete a four-year degree within eight years.
And more than 10 percent of undergraduate students report having a disability.
“For students with disabilities, the transition from high school to college can be difficult and overwhelming,” said Bucshon, who is also a heart surgeon. “The RISE Act is an important step forward to ease this transition by making accommodations more accessible for students who need them and equipping families with the right resources.
“By removing the roadblocks in their way, we can help ensure students with disabilities have the opportunity to rise to their full potential,” Bucshon said.
The RISE Act authorizes an increase in funding for the National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities.
The technical assistance center disseminates information to students and families about the process for receiving accommodations in higher education, and it provides best practices to college and university faculty for supporting students with disabilities.
The RISE Act also improves reporting on academic outcomes for students with disabilities.
“Importantly, the RISE Act closes a loophole that often requires college students with a documented disability to undergo new, costly diagnostic testing in college to be eligible for accommodations,” said Mimi Corcoran, president and CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “Not only will the RISE Act reduce this financial burden on students and their families, but it will allow students and colleges to shift their focus to the important goal of promoting academic success.”