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Making The Decision To Go To College

March is Developmental Disability Awareness Month and a good reminder that planning for the future is critically important for ALL high school students finishing their Junior and Senior years. Late winter and early spring are a good time to take a look whether college is right for you. If you experience a developmental disability, what should you look for in a campus, residence life and support system in college. High school seniors across the nation are awaiting college news and deciding where to take classes in the fall. This should be no different for someone who has a disability because people who have disabilities can and do attend college. 

According to a 2019 report from the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, 49.1% of people in our state who experience a disability have at least some college education. While this number is encouraging and puts NH in the top half of states for people with disabilities having some college education, there is plenty of room for improvement. Of the 49.1% of NH college students who experience a disability, 7% of those students have a developmental disability. 

The process of determining if college is right for you and what form of higher education you are interested in begins in high school. During this time it is a good idea to have conversations with your case coordinator or child’s case coordinator about what path is right for them. There is a good chance that your case coordinator has helped students in the past with deciding which college to attend so they may be able to answer some of your questions and help you narrow down which colleges are right for you. 

The next step is visiting campuses to decide which one you want to attend. The Office of Disability Services is one place on campus that you will want to visit (set up an appointment beforehand if you can, preferably with the Director of Disability Services to ensure any of your questions can be answered and you can introduce yourself).

According to landmarkschool.org, questions you should ask (or have some type of understanding about) include:

  • How many professionals are providing services for students with disabilities? What is their background or experience? 
  • How many students with disabilities do you serve?
  • How do I go about receiving the accommodations I need in the classroom and throughout campus? 
  • Is there tutoring available? How do I go about finding a tutor if I need one? 
  • What is the retention rate for students with a learning disability? 
  • Are the prominent buildings on campus accessible for me and will they meet my needs?
  • How do I go about meeting with you or expressing my needs? 

Also crucial to take into consideration is class size. If a student thrives more in a certain class environment, it is a good idea to find out if the campus you like offers that type of classroom environment. 

It isn’t just the education part of college that needs to be addressed, if you plan on living on-campus you want to ensure dorms and housing are available that fit your needs. It is recommended that you visit the Housing Office to find out what the dorms look like and what information you would need to fill out in order to secure housing that suits you.  

It is important to note that the way a student receives support and accommodations differs greatly from high school to college. For example, in college, there are no IEP’s. According to understood.org, “Colleges don’t fall under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This means colleges don’t have to provide the same level of support and services a student may have gotten in high school. They do have to follow federal civil rights laws, however. That includes Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).” Laws also protect the students’ privacy so as a parent, you are not automatically in the loop in terms of what accommodations and support your child is receiving.

Think College is a national organization dedicated to, “developing, expanding, and improving inclusive higher education options for people with disabilities.” The website notes that it supports, “evidence-based and student-centered research and practice by generating and sharing knowledge, guiding institutional change, informing public policy, and engaging with students, professionals, and families. At any given point, Think College is working on a series of projects all across America. In our own state, the UNH-Institute on Disability (IOD) is partnered with many academic and administrative organizations to “provide inclusive higher education opportunities to young adults with disabilities”. Learn more about the variety of programs focused on the topic of disability here, https://iod.unh.edu/programs-study

The UNH-4U program, which launched in 2019, “combines traditional classroom time with inclusive housing options, peer mentoring, and academic coaches. It is a two-year comprehensive transition program at the UNH Durham campus. The program provides authentic campus life experiences including opportunities for social development, independent living, and recreational endeavors,” according to unh.edu. One purpose of the program is to help those with disabilities gain important skills that will lead to employment. According to the 2019 Report on Disability in New Hampshire, 42% of those with a disability between ages 18-64 were employed at that time while 82.2% of those in our state without a disability and in the same age range were employed at that time. As a result, youth and young adults with a disability are much more likely to live in poverty. Reasons why there is such a gap in employment and poverty levels for those with disabilities include:

  • Lack of access to meaningful post-secondary education and career opportunities that would help change the outcome. 
  • Skills and interests that someone with a disability possesses may not align with courses offered at colleges in the area. 
  • The incorrect perception that someone can’t attend college and have a meaningful job just because they have a disability.  

On https://thinkcollege.net/, you will find: 

  • A searchable program directory to learn more about college options, with features that include icons that highlight key program attributes, numerous ways to filter your results, and the option to save your search. 
  • A resource library that includes published research and legislative updates, as well as tools and resources developed by practitioners and researchers in the field. 
  • Original publications such as: Insight Briefs on a variety of topics related to research and practice in inclusive higher education, Fast Facts that offer focused findings about particular data points, Think College Stories and Student Profiles about students who are benefiting from inclusive higher education, easy to use How-To guides and Grab and Go Practices offering families, students, and practitioners practical advice, the book Think College: Postsecondary Education Option for Students With Intellectual Disabilities
  • Ways to engage with the latest research, such as online summits, affinity groups, an online discussion forum, and publications on inclusive higher education. 
  • Easy-to-access technical assistance via email, scheduling a one-on-one consultation with a member of the staff, and more. 

This resource is designed to help people with a disability decide which type of higher education is right for them, help parents understand what to expect, and help educators better learn how they can make college more accessible for all students. 

Utilizing online resources and speaking to the on-campus Disability Services department are both ways to get a better understanding of the campus you are considering, and the type of accommodations that students with disabilities receive. While the choice to attend college classes isn’t for everyone, regardless of ability, The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability states, “obtaining a college degree is considered by many to be ‘crucial’’” and “earning a college degree can be especially important for young adults with disabilities” because of the higher unemployment rate across America for people with disabilities. Bottom line is if you think college is in your future, there are many resources, programs and supports that can help make students with disabilities more successful. 

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