Synopsis: Sueyoun Hwang writes on the trauma and trials of graduating from high school and the huge steps of entering college.
Graduating from high school and entering college are huge steps for everyone. We all get nervous about the wide range of changes ahead. Those changes are more dramatic than those we experience when we transition from preschool to primary education. Those transformations are far more intense than those we go through when we finally go to high school after graduating from secondary school. Going to college is not merely an upgrade in one's level of education. It involves making a lot of important decisions on one's own, which range from choosing classes to shaping the future. Therefore, attending college demands being independent in one's lives.
Upon acknowledging the fact that going to college is difficult for everyone, we should not overlook the unfortunate reality that students with learning disabilities face even greater challenges during the transition period. Based on my research, it is largely due to the discrepancy in accommodation services between secondary and post-secondary school. According to a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public schools are required to create an individualized education program (IEP) for every child who has a disability and to assure they receive special education services (K. Stanberry, 2015). Up to the secondary education level, IEP is created for each child through a collaborative work by parents, teachers, school officials, school psychologists or other specialists. Even after its initial creation, it is under constant supervision and regular review process by IEP team to ensure that students are making the desired progress. With this systematic IEP service in high school, students receive appropriate accommodations that enable them to learn in academic settings without being hindered by their disabilities.
Three students reading and taking notes at an old wooden table outdoors.
Compared to the rate of college enrollments among the general population, students with learning disabilities attend colleges at half the rate (L. Newman et al., 2011). Unfortunately, as students with disabilities who have been receiving special education services in high school finally make their way to the higher education, they will soon face the obvious gap in the accommodations structure. Consequently, this discrepancy in services becomes an unavoidable obstacle to their learning, which will later lead to a huge difference in graduation rates (R. Hudson, 2013). In college, students are treated as adults who have an ability to advocate themselves. Here, a subtle but fundamental problem arises as students with disabilities lack the self-advocacy skills which suddenly become crucial in the process of receiving accommodations.
What could be the possible cause of this problem? Why do young adults with disabilities lack the ability to advocate themselves?
We need to go back to the high school system to figure out the root of the problem. During their high school years, students with disabilities receive necessary accommodations without actually being involved in the process of IEP services. Most of the works are done by parents, teachers, school officials and psychologists. The primary reason for such policy is because high school is regarded as a period where students need a supervision and support from parents and teachers. However, excluding the student in the process of receiving accommodations in high school will eventually make the student become dependent on college where independence is highly demanded.
What's worse, students with disabilities choose not to identify their needs to college as they realize that they should take over all responsibilities with regard to the accommodation services from initiating the process to providing necessary documents. Besides the fact that they are not used to advocate themselves, the absence of support by the professors and faculties worsen the problem as it creates the environment that makes the students be reluctant to self-identify. Only 28% of college students with disabilities informed their postsecondary schools of their disability (L. Newman et al, 2011). Even when a student decides to identify the needs, if the professor is not supportive or chooses not to provide the requested accommodations, then it is certainly not possible for the student to receive accommodation services that they were able to enjoy in high school.
So, what steps are necessary to ease the transition and ultimately bridge the gap in accommodation structures?
First and foremost, IEP team in high school needs to involve students in their process of developing special education services and teaches them how to advocate themselves. This can be done by including students in the discussion or meeting and letting them be familiar with the process so that they can manage to complete it when they go to college. Another important step is building an effective transition plan. As soon as the student chooses the university to attend, the high school officers who have been working with the student as members of IEP team need to collaborate with college service representatives to best prepare the student in transition. Once we establish a firm and smooth system that can fill the gap in accommodation structures, it can ease the transition for students with disabilities and remove potential obstacles they would otherwise face. Ultimately, such changes will bring more favorable environment for them and reduce the huge differences in graduation rates.
Hudson, R. (2013). The effect of disability disclosure on the graduation rates of college students with disabilities. Diss. Virginia Tech.
Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A., Marder, C., Nagle, K. Shaver, D., & Wei, X. (2011). The Post-High School Outcomes of Young Adults With Disabilities up to 8 Years After High School: A Report From the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2)(NCSER 2011-3005). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
Stanberry, K. (2015). Understanding individualized education programs.
Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/ieps/understanding-individualized-education-programs