By: Kristen Simon, M.Ed, Ed.S
Transition Specialist; Psychoeducational Counselor
There can be a lot of confusion for students who have received special education services or accommodations in high school about what stays the same and what changes in college. Some high school families and staff know that if a student has received IEP services throughout school, the IEP does not travel with them to college. This is because an IEP is a document that is developed in accordance with IDEA, a special education law that affords protections to students with disabilities up until they graduate or age out of their local high school. When a student transitions to work or a college or university, this law is no longer relevant and the IEP essentially “expires.”
There is often greater confusion for families around whether colleges are required to follow 504 plans (i.e., accommodation plans) developed in high school. While it’s true that students with disabilities are protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, it’s important to understand that high school 504 plans also effectively “expire” once a child graduates. Students can still receive accommodations under Section 504, but they are unlikely to hear the term “504” or to have any written “plan” related to their disability or those accommodations. There are some important differences between Section 504 mandates under subpart E (which covers postsecondary institutions) and those that fall under subpart D (which covers secondary schools). The key differences are described below:
- Eligibility: Colleges and universities will have their own process for eligibility, and students have to be determined eligible by their university – even if they had been deemed eligible for accommodations in high school. Students will usually need documentation from a doctor or a psychologist that demonstrates the presence of a disability as well as how that disability substantially limits learning.
- Available Accommodations: Colleges don’t have any obligation to provide the same services and accommodations that students may have received in high school, and not all of the accommodations provided by high schools are available at the college level. Moreover, different accommodations may be available at different colleges because the law mandates that the college provides accommodations which are “reasonable” and effective, not the best or most expensive.
- Shift in Delivery: Professors will not automatically provide an accommodation as was the case in high school. Students have to seek out accommodations and can register for them after they are officially enrolled. At the college or university level, the expectation is that the young adult knows what support is available to them and that they self-advocate for the accommodations they need. Also, even if a student qualifies for an accommodation, they have to make the choice to actively use that accommodation – if they don’t advocate, they won’t get it.
Students should also know that while accommodations help, they can only go so far (e.g., if you don’t understand the content, having extra time on the exam won’t help). Students should be sure to connect with disability services to hear about tutoring options, academic coaching, writing centers, counseling supports, and anything else that is offered.
U.S. Department of Education: Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education
Elizabeth Cohen Hamblet Learning Disabilities Consultant website: College Disability Accommodations Information – Elizabeth C. Hamblet (ldadvisory.com)
About the Author
Kristen Simon, M.Ed, Ed.S, has worked with transition-aged youth as a licensed School Psychologist for more than a decade. She has extensive experience working with children and adolescents with a range of learning and social/emotional abilities. Kristen’s strengths lie in her communication and advocacy skills as well as her strengths-based approach. She is passionate about developing students’ self-awareness, goal-setting abilities, and vision through student-centered counseling, psychoeducation, social skills instruction, and executive functioning coaching. Mrs. Simon has particular interests working with children and adolescents on the Autism spectrum as well as individuals working to manage stress or anxiety-related challenges.
Mrs. Simon is an expert evaluator and observer who has extensive working knowledge of the special education process and school-based special education services, particularly in Massachusetts. She has been an integral part of hundreds of IEP teams and has helped to coordinate care, develop goals, and guide students and their families through the transition planning process. Mrs. Simon further has special expertise helping students to learn about their diagnoses and testing and the IEP process in general. She enjoys assisting students, families, and educators in understanding a student’s disability-related needs as well as the strategies that can help the student to be successful in both academic and nonacademic settings. Mrs. Simon has often been a part of teams in the years when students are initially participating in transition services, and she has helped countless students to build the skills necessary to be part of their first team meetings. She is committed to teaching students—as well as parents and educators—how to participate in student-centered team meetings and the IEP processes.
At NESCA, Mrs. Simon works as a transition specialist and psychoeducational counselor. She works with adolescents, their families, and their school communities to identify and build the skills necessary to achieve their postsecondary goals. Mrs. Simon provides transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations, and observations), program observations and evaluations, case management and consultation, and individualized counseling and skills coaching.
To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s transition specialists, please complete our online intake form.
NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.