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October 11, 2019

Reps. Pressley DeSaulnier, Harder, Huffman, Khanna, and Langevin Introduce Legislation to Expand Access to Higher Education for Students with Disabilities

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), and Congressmen Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Josh Harder (CA-10), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Ro Khanna (CA-17), and James Langevin (RI-02) introduced the Improving Access to Higher Education Act. This bill would help improve college access and completion for students with disabilities.

“There are 57 million Americans living with a disability, and over 90,000 in the Massachusetts 7th congressional district,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “These are our neighbors, and they depend on equitable access to higher education for both their own independence and as a means of upward mobility. It is critical that we treat issues of education equity as an issue of civil rights — that we take the necessary steps to enact policies that encourage college access and completion.”

“When students with disabilities are provided the proper tools and resources for their specific learning needs, they can excel in the classroom. However, students with disabilities enrolled in four-year college have only a 34 percent chance of completing their degree,” said Congressman DeSaulnier. “For the past three decades, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has helped support students with disabilities complete their K-12 education. I am proud to partner with my colleagues in introducing this important and necessary legislation to ensure college-ready students with disabilities reach their full potential.”


“Students with disabilities face several challenges in earning postsecondary degrees,” said Congressman Langevin, co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus. “We are better as a nation when every American is given the opportunity to succeed. I am proud to join my House colleagues in leading this bill that will help provide students with disabilities better resources at institutions of higher education that foster success in the classroom and beyond.”


“We owe all students a quality education, but the faculty and administrators working to support college students with disabilities often face barriers to achieving that goal,” said Congressman Huffman. “The Improving Access to Higher Education Act will help level the playing field for students with disabilities, allowing every student to access higher education and gain the skills needed to live a meaningful and independent life. This legislation builds on our work to keep the promise of full K-12 special education funding, so that students with disabilities receive the support they need at every step in their academic careers.”  


“Education is meant to help people become the very best version of themselves they can be – that should apply to everyone – regardless of ability,” said Congressman Harder. “Folks with disabilities have been neglected for too long and it’s high time we make the investments we need to ensure everyone can fully participate in all aspects of society – including in education.”


“Higher education should be accessible, affordable, and accommodating for every student in this country,” said Congressman Khanna. “Whether it’s technical school or a four-year degree program, our students deserve to have the support they need to succeed. Extending the IDEA Act to include students in higher education is the logical step toward ensuring we are building the best workforce possible for the 21st century economy.”


In 2005, just 46 percent of students with disabilities who graduated from high school enrolled in postsecondary education, with only 40 percent of those students going on to finish a degree or receive a work certificate within eight years. The Improving Access to Higher Education Act aims to address this gap in completion rates.


Specifically, the Improving Access to Higher Education Act would:

  • Instruct institutions to provide comprehensive services to students with disabilities, such as personalized study plans, integrated housing among their peers, and partnerships with local education agencies
  • Improve professional development and technical assistance to faculty and staff
  • Develop best practices for institutions to integrate instructional materials and technology in the classroom
  • Require institutions to collect data assessing the success of the services provided to students with disabilities
  • Incentivize institutions to create an Office of Accessibility to best address the needs of students receiving disability services
  • Create two new $10 million grants to establish a National Teacher Assistance Center and National Coordinating Center for Inclusion of Students with Intellectual Disabilities


“NCLD applauds Congressman DeSaulnier for his strong leadership on the introduction of the comprehensive Increasing Access to Higher Education Act, which incorporates essential provisions of the RISE Act. We cannot ignore the fact that young people with learning disabilities are just as capable as their peers, yet enroll in college at half the rate and face incredible barriers to completion. It is time to strengthen policies and invest in programs that will clear the path to success for students with disabilities and create a welcoming college environment for all students,” said Lindsay Jones, President & CEO, National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD).


“AUCD supports the Improving Access to Higher Education Act and thanks Rep. DeSaulnier for his commitment to the promise of higher education for all students, including those with intellectual disabilities,” said Rylin Rodgers, Director of Public Policy, Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD).


The full list of organizations supporting the Improving Access to Higher Education Act includes: The Arc, Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), Autism Society of America, Higher Education Consortium for Special Education, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Down Syndrome Congress, and Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children.



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