Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act


         With IDEA reauthorization off the table for the time being, DLD members need to pay attention to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The following are facts related to the need for higher education, along with recommendations related to the reauthorization of the law.


Facts that Shape the Discussion:

               *33% of working-age people with disabilities participate in the labor force, compared to 77% of their peers without disabilities (Bureau of Labor Force, 2019).

               *By 2020, 65% of all U.S. jobs will require some postsecondary education and 90% of new jobs in growing industries with high wages will require, at a minimum, some postsecondary education (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2019).

               *Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (504) protect students with disabilities from discrimination and require institutions of higher education (IHE) to provide reasonable accommodations. However, colleges and universities (i.e., IHEs) face challenges in supporting students who may be unaware of their rights and responsibilities and the ways in which they can access accommodations. Additionally, IHEs may have difficulty providing accommodations, including services that involve specialized knowledge (e.g., assistive technology). Many faculty and staff are unaware of their legal obligations and how to accommodate students with disabilities (Smith, 2001).

               *While 94% of students with learning disabilities received accommodations in high school, only 17% received accommodations in postsecondary education and many go without the accommodations and supports they need (National Center on Educational Research, 2011).

               * Forty-eight states and D.C. report teacher shortages; the greatest shortages occur in the fields of special education and early intervention.

               * Educators prepared through alternate pathways which often include less coursework and shorter student teaching experiences are 25% more likely to leave their schools and the profession than those who are well-prepared.

               * Over the past 5 years, enrollment in teacher preparation programs has declined 35% (US Department of Education, 2017).


Recommendation: Include the Supporting the Teaching Profession Through Revitalizing Investments in Valuable Educators Act (STRIVE) Act.

Recommendation: Retain and strengthen the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grants with a focus on residency preparation, principal preparation, and shortage areas such as special education, specialized instructional support personnel, and professional development. Such grants ensure skill development in using research-based practices that improve outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities, and partnering with parents in the education of students with disabilities.

Recommendation: Require Department of Education to promote the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (i.e., TEACH) grants through activities such as public awareness campaigns and to actively engage in recruiting teacher candidates, particularly in shortage fields such as special education.

Recommendation: Maintain TEACH grant funding as mandatory funding. Recommendation: Include language – adding early childhood education – including early intervention and preschool education – to the list of high-need fields.

Recommendation: Retain and strengthen Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs including the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. These programs are critical in addressing the teacher shortage and should be strengthened and marketed by the Department of Education as a strategy for addressing the shortage and the shrinking pipeline of teachers.

Recommendation: Include the Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act (S.1585). This bipartisan bill:

*Authorizes increased funding for a technical assistance center that provides students and families with information on disability services available in college and how to access services and offers college faculty training and resources on best practices to support students with disabilities.

*Requires IHEs to accept an Individualized Education Program (IEP), 504 plan, or prior evaluation as documentation of a student’s disability when seeking accommodations in an IHE, preventing students from having to undergo a new, costly and burdensome evaluation required by many IHEs.

Recommendation: Maintain the National Technical Assistance Center in Section 777(a) of the Higher Education Opportunity Act.

Recommendation: Authorize funding to collect (and make available to the public) accurate data about the recruitment, retention, graduation, and employment of students and faculty with disabilities to help postsecondary programs in their ability to serve students with disabilities and to provide middle and high school students, parents, and faculty with information about postsecondary educational options, accessibility, enrollment procedures, supports, and rights and responsibilities.

Recommendation: Include provisions establishing a new commission to identify barriers to ensuring equal opportunity for students with psychiatric disabilities and make recommendations.

Recommendation: Include the Expanding Disability Access to Higher Education Act (S. 1176) to promote the matriculation and increase in the graduation rates of individuals with disabilities within higher education for first-generation or low-income students with disabilities including through the TRIO program.

Recommendation: Clarify that, consistent with the ADA and other laws, students should not be penalized for behavior related to a disability where individualized, reasonable accommodations could mitigate this behavior.

Recommendation: Retain the definition of “universal design for learning” (UDL) included in current law. In addition, postsecondary education programs and their administration, staff, and faculty should receive training, support, and technical assistance to ensure programs of instruction, curricula, and support services are developed according to the principles of UDL.

Recommendation: Include provisions that require services, including but not limited to housing, websites, and athletic facilities, to be universally designed and accessible to students with disabilities, and require that institutions understand their legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations.

Recommendation: Apply accessibility standards to all platforms used by IHEs to deliver instruction in recognition of the increasing availability of web and computer-based instructional delivery and web and computer-based course materials for students.

Recommendation: Incorporate the use of UDL principles into teacher preparation coursework and professional development.

Recommendation: Require teacher preparation programs to ensure that candidates complete their preparation prior to serving as the teacher of record and qualify for full state certification upon program completion.

Recommendation: Require that individuals who complete teacher preparation programs receiving funds via the Higher Education Act (HEA) demonstrate content knowledge and skill in instructing diverse learners, including students with disabilities.

Recommendation: Include provisions that require the administration, staff, and faculty of postsecondary program to receive training, support, and technical assistance to ensure programs of instruction, curricula, and support services are developed according to the principles of UDL.

Recommendation: Include provisions requiring that IHEs receiving Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act grants return those grant funds if they are found to have discriminated against students based on a psychiatric disability.

Student Loan Availability, Accessibility, and Affordability.

Students with disabilities, and professionals who work with children and adults with disabilities must be taken into consideration as our federal government tackles the important issue of affordability and access to higher education. These students must be eligible for all types of financial aid and programs to create greater access, especially for first-generation college students and all other students. The HEA should ensure that educators, those who provide early interventions services, specialized instructional support personnel, and other professionals who work with people with disabilities are provided the financial support to pursue a public service career. These professionals are critical to ensuring that children and adults with disabilities have access to the range of services and supports they need to participate in the workforce and community life.

Recommendation: Provide access to adequate levels of federal loans and affordable loan repayment options to all students (providers of services beginning at birth and students with disabilities).

Recommendation: Federal law should ensure that students with disabilities are accommodated if they cannot meet credit-hour requirements per semester.

Recommendation: An updated HEA must retain provisions that allow students with intellectual disabilities to access financial aid.

Recommendation: Change the Title of Sec. 766 Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs to “Inclusive Higher Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.”





Bureau of Labor Force (2019). Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary. Washington, DC: United States Department of Labor.

Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., & Stohl, J. (2019). Recovery: Job growth and education requirements through 2020. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Public Policy Institute.

National Center for Special Education Research. (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). Washington: US Department of Education.

Smith, T. E. C.  (2001). Section 504, the ADA, and Public Schools. Remedial And Special Education, 22(6), 335-343.

U.S. Department of Education. (2017).  Teacher Shortage Areas Nationwide Listing 1990–1991 through 2017–2018. Washington: Author.