Rising Enrollments of Students with Disabilities at Higher Education Institutions

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Institute of Education Sciences

College and other post-secondary enrollments of students with disabilities continue to rise in the United States – with 88 percent of the institutions reporting enrolling students with disabilities in the 2008-2009 school years.

This, coupled with recent legislation including the Americans with Disabilities Act, has generated significant interest in research on how accessible higher education opportunities are for those students with disabilities.

Researchers defined a disability as a mental or physical condition that causes functional limitations which affect major life activities, such as communication, mobility and learning.

This report represents only students who identified themselves as having a disability to their institution; those are the only students with disabilities that a higher education institution can report on.

The study found that, for the 2008-09 academic year, 88 percent of two-year and four-year Title IV Federal Student Aid granting programs reported enrolling students with disabilities. Additionally, 99 percent of all public two-year and four-year institutions reported enrolling students with disabilities.

Institutions reported enrolling about 707,000 students with disabilities in the 2008-09 academic year, with about half of those students enrolling in public two-year institutions.

Of those students enrolling at higher education institutions, 86 percent of them had some kind of specific learning disability. In addition, 79 percent of those with disabilities had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), while about 76 percent of students had mobility limitations, orthopedic impairments or mental illness and psychological / psychiatric conditions.

Over half of institutions (55 percent) reported that their counts of enrollments provided to the researchers included students who had disabilities, regardless of whether services and accommodations were provided to them in the 2008-09 academic year.

A few barriers that many institutions faced included limited resources available to implement Universal Design (which helps those with disabilities be more “mobile” through various ways including barrier-free entrances), the rising costs of implementing Universal Design and having other priorities for the institution.

For the full, free 63-page report click here