College and Alternatives for Students with Disabilities
Video: Education After High School
Your child is now a young adult and is graduating from high school, ready to take the next step in their journey. It’s exciting – but also overwhelming – when your child decides to keep going with their education in a college or transitional program. Is your child able to pick classes, fill out important paperwork, and keep up with schoolwork on their own? If they are not ready, how can they keep going with their education after graduating? Many students with disabilities now spend more time in inclusive settings than ever before and have the benefit of transition services. Because of this, and because their right to an education is now better protected than ever, continuing after high school is now a natural next step for many students with disabilities or special health care needs.
The big question is: How do you and your family get started? Navigating college life is often more complicated for students with disabilities, chronic (long-lasting) illnesses, or special health care needs.
Continuing Education Choices
Colleges and universities (4 year): offer bachelor’s degrees, in-depth studies, and can help students prepare for graduate degree programs.
Community or junior colleges (2 year): offer associate degrees and job training programs; many classes or credits transfer to 4-year colleges.
Vocational or technical colleges: have job training for technical and specialized careers.
Transitional education programs: help your child keep going with their studies or prepare for a job after high school.
Independent Living Services: can help your young adult improve their ability to do things on their own.
When your child is between the ages of 14 and 16 (or earlier, if possible), their ARD team must begin focusing on transition during the ARD meeting. See our Transitioning Out of Public Education page to learn more.
If your child is receiving special education services in high school, they had to have an evaluation to get those services. You might want to ask for another evaluation. Your child’s educational needs might change as they prepare for life beyond high school, and this evaluation may help them get the most out of their final high school years. It also documents their disability so they can prepare for college or employment if they need accommodations. Keep in mind that, while the school does not need to give this evaluation unless there is an educational need, getting one during the last few years of high school is a wonderful gift for your young adult.
Education after high school is often very different, and there are some things you and your child should know:
The kinds of help schools give will change. Your child might receive accommodations from their college, but not modifications; colleges follow Section 504 instead of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which protects your child’s right to an education. For example, the college generally won’t modify what they teach, but will give accommodations as needed (like note takers during class, taking an exam in the testing center, and more).
When considering a school, check to see if they have an office for students with disabilities that offers support services. This is where your child can arrange for the accommodations they need.
Community colleges help some students transition to college life more easily. They are generally smaller and have fewer students in a classroom, and the tuition is more affordable.
Registering With the Office for Students With Disabilities
If your child’s college or university has an office for students with disabilities, your child will need to register there before receiving accommodations or services. They will need documentation of their disability or special health care needs. This also documents the accommodations they had before entering college.
The college or university might ask for 1 or more of these documents:
Their most recent school evaluations (usually no more than 3 to 5 years old).
An independent evaluation.
High school records, IEPs, or letters from high school support staff.
Comparing Technical and Community Colleges
Both technical and community colleges often:
Offer many job training programs and technical certifications.
Follow Section 504 and have offices for students with disabilities.
Do not require students to take the SAT or ACT.
But community colleges might have a few advantages:
They might be more affordable than technical schools.
Their classes often transfer more easily into a 4-year university’s degree plan.
When choosing a program, your child should consider:
How many other students have completed the degree program versus how many started the program in the first place.
Whether the school has job placement services for students and recent graduates. (See if there is a way to ask recent graduates about their job-hunting success on tours or admissions visits.)
The average student debt most students in this program have after graduating.
Paying For College
Tuition might be expensive, but there are a few things you can do to make it more affordable.
Here in Texas, a few colleges and universities work with students with intellectual disabilities and help them keep going with their studies or get job training. These may be a great choice for students who need a bit more time and support with transition.
Independent Living Services are provided by HHSC and community organizations that work with HHSC through Centers for Independent Living. These services help adults with disabilities or special health care needs so they can navigate daily life more independently. Services include classes, social outings, and job training. Many have programs specifically designed for students transitioning out of high school. In some cases, HHSC pays for these services. To get started, find a Center for Independent Living near you and call, visit their website, or stop by.
“For me, I knew it was going to be a tough battle. But it also gave me confidence that, if he could get his college degree, then he had a better chance at a job that would support him in what he wanted to do. Whatever amount of college he can get, whether it’s a 2-year degree or a 4-year degree, when you show it on your resume, it just makes you more appealing to an employer. Plus, it’s giving him a little more time to grow up. “