Students With Disabilities May Be Collateral Damage in College Admissions Scandal

Earlier this month, Americans were made aware of a number of wealthy families allegedly abusing the college admissions process by faking disabilities, cheating on admissions tests, and bribing college officials. The alleged scheme is incredibly discouraging and does a serious disservice to students who have real disabilities and rely on accommodations in school. Many disabilities rights advocates, including some who advocated on behalf of NCLD in Washington, D.C., last month, spoke out about the potential harm this may cause to students with disabilities. In particular, advocates highlighted that this scandal must not be allowed to harm the millions of students with disabilities who need accommodations and who might have to jump through more hoops to get them.

Two New Resources to Empower Students With Disabilities and Their Peers in Higher Education

While much of the recent news coverage has focused on students and families allegedly faking disabilities to cheat on college admissions tests, there is another critical issue that needs our attention: Students with real disabilities need support once they get to college, and they often struggle to get it. Students with disabilities need more than just academic skills to succeed in postsecondary life — they need the capacity to make active and empowered choices about their learning and lives. NCLD, the American Council on Education (ACE) and the American Association of University Administrators worked together to develop two new resources designed to support university faculty and university administrators as they create environments where students with disabilities are more empowered to exercise self-advocacy and self-determination.

How Do the Trump Administration’s Higher Education Act Reauthorization Priorities Match Up With NCLD’s?

Also this month, the Trump administration announced its goals for revamping federal higher education policies through a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). In particular, the administration asks Congress to:

  • Simplify student loan repayment by consolidating the five income-driven repayment options into one plan that caps monthly payments at 12.5 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income and extending loan forgiveness to all undergraduate students (after 180 months of repayment through an income-driven repayment plan).
  • Eliminate the “Public Service Loan Forgiveness” program.
  • Expand Pell Grants for “short-term, high quality programs” and expand federal student aid for workforce training programs to prisoners eligible for release.
  • Reinstitute limits on federal PLUS loans for parents and graduate students.
  • Ensure students have the program-level earnings and outcome data they need to make better informed choices about potential careers and educational opportunities.

If it seems to you like something big is missing, you’re right. These priorities completely miss the mark for students with disabilities, failing to mention the issues that are most important for them. As NCLD continues to advocate for a strong and comprehensive HEA reauthorization, students with disabilities will remain front and center. Specifically, NCLD’s HEA priorities include:

  • Incorporating the Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act into HEA. This would require colleges to accept an IEP or a 504 plan as evidence of disability when a student is seeking accommodations in college.
  • Continued funding for the National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities, a center that provides resources for students on accessibility, enrollment procedures and available supports. It also provides resources for faculty to serve students with disabilities.
  • Maintaining loan forgiveness programs and grants (such as TEACH grants) that incentivize individuals to enter and remain in high-need teaching fields.
  • Requiring that individuals who complete teacher preparation programs receiving funds via HEA demonstrate content knowledge and skill in instructing diverse learners, including students with disabilities.
  • Including provisions requiring that the administration, staff and faculty of postsecondary programs receive training, support and technical assistance to ensure that programs of instruction, curricula and support services are developed according to the principles of Universal Design for Learning.

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Carrying out the NCLD mission to improve outcomes for the 1 in 5 individuals with learning and attention issues.

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