Proposed bill seeks to improve college completion among students with disabilities

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

California Democratic congressman Mark DeSaulnier wants to improve college access and completion for students with disabilities with a bill that would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965.

A part of the Aim Higher initiative, a series of higher education proposals aimed at access, affordability, and completion, the bill called Improving Access to Higher Education Act (H.R. 3199) seeks to close the achievement gap between abled and disabled college students.

On July 12, Congress members Bobby Scott (D-VA), Steny Hoyer D-(MD), James Langevin (D-RI) and Jared Huffman (D-CA) joined DeSaulnier in sponsoring the bill.

“This first of its kind legislation takes a comprehensive approach to providing students and institutions with improved training, greater resources, and expanded services—bringing us one step closer to ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to earn a degree, find a job, and achieve the American Dream,” said Congressman DeSaulnier.

According to a March 2013 study by the American Institutes for Research, a behavioral and social science think-tank, 46 percent of disabled high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education. That’s 33 percent less than for the general student population.

As for disabled students who enrolled in a four-year institution, only 34 percent received a degree within eight years. For the general student population, that number is 51 percent.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, whose district includes part of Philadelphia, said the bill “levels the playing field” and “expands access to opportunity and gives each and every one of our students a chance to succeed.”

To address the barriers leading to the disparity, the proposed regulations include implementation of comprehensive services for students with disabilities such as individualized education plans; improved professional development for faculty and staff; and requiring institutions to collect data to track the success of the provided services.

“When we broaden access to opportunity we in turn build stronger neighborhoods block by block,” Evans said.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, beginning the long process toward potential enactment.

At the same time, the House is considering a budget resolution that would cut $20 billion from federal higher education spending, severely curtailing the Pell Grant program that helps low-income students attend college.