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Higher Education and Disability: Education Needs a Coordinated Approach to Improve Its Assistance to Schools in Supporting Students

GAO-10-33 Published: Oct 28, 2009. Publicly Released: Oct 28, 2009.
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Research suggests that more students with disabilities are pursuing higher education than in years past, and recent legislative changes, such as those in the Higher Education Opportunity Act and Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, have the potential to increase the number and diversity of this population. GAO was asked to examine (1) what is known about the population of postsecondary students with disabilities; (2) how postsecondary schools are supporting students with disabilities; (3) what challenges, if any, schools face in supporting these students; and (4) how the Department of Education is assisting schools in supporting these students. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed federal survey and some state data; conducted site visits; interviewed agency officials, disability experts, school officials, and students; and reviewed laws, regulations, and literature.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education To improve access to quality higher education for students with disabilities, the Secretary of Education should develop and implement a coordinated approach to optimize agency resources and knowledge in providing technical assistance to institutions of higher education in supporting students with disabilities. For example, Education could develop a plan for routinely and systematically sharing information related to supporting postsecondary students with disabilities.
Closed – Implemented
In 2010, the Department of Education reported that it established a work group consisting of representatives from the principal offices with relevant expertise, knowledge, program management responsibilities, and higher education contacts. The work group includes representatives of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, including representatives from the Office of Special Education Programs, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and the Rehabilitation Services Administration; the Office of Postsecondary Education; the Office of Vocational and Adult Education; and the Office for Civil Rights. This coordinated approach to providing technical assistance can optimize agency resources and knowledge and improve technical assistance to support students with disabilities in higher education.

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