NCD Letter regarding Expanding Access to Higher Education Act

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June 25, 2019

The Honorable Bob Casey
United States Senate
393 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Sherrod Brown
United States Senate
503 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senators Casey and Brown:

I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD) to applaud the introduction of the “Expanding Access to Higher Education Act” (S. 1176). This bill has the potential to close the gap for students with disabilities who are entering college at rates similar to their non-disabled peers but are not graduating at commensurate rates. This is especially significant because while currently only 32 percent of working-age people with disabilities are employed, those with a college education are more likely to be employed and are earning a higher average wage than those without a college education. Put simply, higher education provides the clearest path to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

As NCD noted in a 2015 briefing paper, “Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA): The Implications for Increasing the Employment of People with Disabilities,”1 students with disabilities face a number of impediments to getting into college and, once there, they may encounter further barriers to success. Students with disabilities are often not considered good candidates for college and may not receive the support they need to set their sights on a college education, and many may be discouraged from pursuing a standard high school diploma that is often a prerequisite to attending college. To address this issue, S. 1176 provides grants to TRIO programs such as Upward Bound, Education Opportunity Centers, and others to increase recruitment of students with disabilities into these programs and support TRIO-eligible students with disabilities with services designed to meet their needs. Once students with disabilities begin applying to college, S. 1176 provides for ongoing support. This is achieved through staff development that would educate faculty and staff about the needs of students with disabilities, including how to provide reasonable accommodations that will support student success; and grants for the creation of “Offices of Accessibility” on college campuses, including community colleges, that would serve as a central location for resources to support students, faculty and staff with disabilities. These steps go a long way towards building the campus of the future that incorporates the concept of universal design where campuses and classes are seamlessly accessible to students with and without disabilities and students who need additional accommodations are provided with the tools they need to succeed.

Finally, the bill aims to close the gaps on the information we have about students with disabilities and their experiences on campus. S. 1176 direct the Department of Education to collect enrollment, persistence, and attrition information regarding students with disabilities and requests a GAO report that provides a picture of how many students with disabilities are in college and how many are participants in TRIO programs preparing for college.

NCD welcomes the introduction of this important legislation and looks forward to working with Congress as work on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in such a way that fully includes students with disabilities preparing for, participating in and successfully completing their higher education in anticipation of a more independent and self-sufficient life than previous generations of people with disabilities.

Respectfully,

Neil Romano
Chairman