Major Step Forward in Improving College Opportunities and Supports for Students with Disabilities Taken with Higher Education Act Reauthorization

August 18, 2008

Last week President Bush signed into law the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. The law is the first reauthorization of the nation’s primary higher education laws in a decade. While the bi-partisan legislation will improve access and affordability of higher education for all Americans, a major step forward is taken in improving postsecondary opportunities and supports for students with disabilities.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act will address multiple barriers students with disabilities face in accessing and completing higher education.  The legislation builds upon previous demonstration projects to provide assistance to faculty, staff, and administrators in educating students with disabilities.  The creation of an advisory commission and new programs will help improve access to college course materials for students with print disabilities.  Moreover, the establishment of a new technical assistance center within the Department of Education will take existing knowledge and what is learned from new demonstration projects to a national scale.  As a result of this legislation, institutions across the country will be better able to provide high quality disability support services to current and prospective students with disabilities.

In particular, AUCD commends the development of new model comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities. Many University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs) across the AUCD network have embarked on what we feel is a new frontier in creating postsecondary opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.  As parents and transitioning students become more aware of these options, demand is increasing.  Further development of such programs and the establishment of a coordinating center will lead to better knowledge about best practices and benefits of such programs.  In addition, allowing students with intellectual disabilities to access federal work-study and Pell grants for the first time is a major advancement in full participation of individuals with intellectual disabilities in our society.

AUCD applauds Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Kennedy (D-MA) and Ranking Member Enzi (R-WY), as well as House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Miller (D-CA) and Ranking Member McKeon (R-CA) for their leadership.  In addition, Senator Mikulski (D-MD) was instrumental in advancing a bi-partisan bill forward.  Research indicates that while the majority of students with disabilities aspire to go to college, students with disabilities are much less likely than nondisabled peers to attend and complete postsecondary education.  We must do more to open the doors to higher education and support students with disabilities.  The Higher Education Opportunity Act is a major advancement and we look forward to working with Congress to secure the necessary appropriations to implement the critically important provisions of this landmark legislation.


The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), located in Silver Spring, MD, promotes and supports a national network of interdisciplinary centers on disabilities. The members of AUCD represent every U.S. state and territory.  AUCD and its members work to advance policy and practice through research, education, leadership, and services for and with individuals with developmental and other disabilities, their families, and communities.  For more information, visit the AUCD website.