The Department of Education gives grants to schools and organizations to help disadvantaged students—including students with disabilities—prepare for, enroll in, and graduate from college. The Student Support Services program is its only college access program whose target population specifically includes students with disabilities.
But Education does not collect complete information about the disability status of the students helped through the program. As a result, it can't fully evaluate whether the program is reaching the students it was designed to serve. We recommended that Education collect complete information.
What GAO Found
The Department of Education does not report on students with disabilities who participate in its Student Support Services (SSS) program, one of eight TRIO grant programs that promote achievement in postsecondary education among disadvantaged students. While none of the TRIO programs focuses exclusively on students with disabilities, the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), specifically states that part of the program design for the SSS program is to foster an institutional climate supportive of students with disabilities. Education collects information about whether SSS participants meet one of several possible eligibility criteria, but does not collect data on the disability status of each SSS participant. In addition, Education periodically reports on the performance of SSS, but does not include performance information for participants with disabilities. The HEA requires, and performance management best practices underpin the need for, reporting on SSS for participants with disabilities. GAO found that as a result of not collecting data on each SSS participant's disability status, Education cannot fully evaluate and report on the program's performance for this population.
Why GAO Did This Study
Through eight separate programs, Education gives grants to schools and organizations that provide disadvantaged students with services to help them attend college. These eight grant programs are collectively known as "TRIO," named for the original three programs. In recent years, Congress has provided over $1 billion annually for TRIO programs. The programs primarily serve low-income and first-generation college students, while some also target individuals with disabilities and veterans. Given that students with disabilities are less likely to complete a postsecondary education and that this disparity can have lifelong consequences, GAO was asked to examine questions related to students with disabilities and TRIO. This report examines the extent to which Education has collected and reported information on students with disabilities served through TRIO.
To examine this topic, GAO reviewed Education documents such as the most recent annual report for each TRIO program, and interviewed officials from Education as well as an organization representing TRIO grantees. GAO examined Education's performance reporting under certain requirements in the HEA, and assessed them against effective performance management practices that GAO identified in prior work.
GAO recommends Education collect data from SSS grantees on each participant's disability status, and use this information to report on program performance for participants with disabilities. Education concurred with GAO's recommendation and described plans to collect and use this information to report on program performance for participants with disabilities.
Recommendations for Executive Action
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Priority Rec.Education's Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education should collect data from SSS grantees on each participant's disability status and use this information to report on program performance for participants with disabilities. (Recommendation 1)