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High School vs. College Services

Students with disabilities are entitled to accommodations in school, be it K-12 (public) or post-secondary education. However the nature and delivery of those accommodations, as well as the distribution of responsibility, differ significantly between high school and college. The following links illustrates some of these differences.:

Difference 1: IDEA/ADA and Section 504

High School: IDEA and Section 504 are the laws that mandate "free and appropriate public education" for all K-12 students, no matter what the ability level; education at this level is a right

College: The ADA and Section 504 guarantee equal access to post-secondary education by requiring "reasonable accommodations" to college students who are "otherwise qualified" as a student; education at this level is a privilege

Difference 2: Qualification

High School: The only qualification for public education is age; students with disabilities may qualify for special education

College: "Otherwise qualified" students must meet all entrance and academic progress requirements with or without reasonable accommodation; there is no "special education" in college

Difference 3: Accomodations

High School: In order to meet the "free and appropriate public education" requirements, educational standards may be compromised by making such accommodations as shortening assignments, allowing students to use notes, books or other resources on tests when other students may not, or taking untimed tests

College: No accommodation at the post-secondary level may reduce standards or in any way compromise the integrity of the course; accommodations must be deemed reasonable, and agreed upon by the student, the DS provider and the instructor; e.g. extended time for tests may be a reasonable accommodation, but untimed tests is not reasonable

Difference 4: Notification of Disability

High School: Accommodations are driven by the Child Study Team, consisting of teachers, counselors, school psychologists, parents and the student, which develops an IEP or 504 Plan

College: There is no team, no plan, no notification of instructors except by the student, and parents are not involved in any way except at the written request of the student

Difference 5: Placement/Intergration

High School: Various levels of placement are available with varying levels of integration into the regular classroom; the student's "team" determines which placement is the "least restrictive environment" (required by IDEA)

College: Full integration with or without reasonable accommodations is the only option

Difference 6: A Student's Plan / Request

High School: A student's plan, academic history and needs are shared with all teachers before s/he enters the class

College: Instructors will only be contacted by the college at the request of the student, and this request must be made for each instructor, for each course and renewed each semester; students may decline accommodations they do not need or want

Difference 7: Waivers

High School: Some graduation requirements may be waived if the student's disability specifically interferes with his/her ability to successfully complete that subject or class

College: Many colleges and/or programs have a process in place to determine eligibility for course substitutions when a student's disability affects that subject (e.g. foreign language), but waivers are not an option

Difference 8: Personal Care Services

High School: Public schools must provide assessment services, physical, speech or other therapy, or personal care services needed while the student is in school

College: Personal care, medical, psychological and/or therapeutic services and other non-academic needs are the responsibility of the student

Difference 9: Information Disclosure

High School: Teachers may be provided with educational information about a student's disability, or they may be expected to learn as much as they can about their student's disability

College: The only information instructors are given by the college is what accommodations are appropriate, and then, only when requested by the student to do so; students may choose to disclose information about their disability, but instructors may not ask students about their condition, nor are they expected to gather information or "be informed"

Difference 10: Responsibility for Determination of Disability

High School: The primary responsibility for identification, assessment (as appropriate) and determination of disability and for requesting accommodations is on the school

College: The primary responsibility for identification, assessment and determination of disability and for requesting accommodations is on the student

If you have a disability and are transitioning from high school into the college setting, you are strongly encouraged to investigate your college-of-choice's services for students with disabilities. Most colleges have a process in place for arranging accommodations for students with disabilities; some processes are centralized through a disability services office, while others are decentralized, with departments and programs making those arrangements.

Contact Information

Katherine Meier
Phone/TDD: 406.771.4311
FAX: 406.771.4342

Hours of Operation
Monday through Friday- 8:00-5:00 p.m.
Saturday through Sunday- Closed

The Disability Services Office is located in R 261 on the 2nd level at the top of the ramp across from the Advising and Career Center and next to the Academic Success Center.

  • Elevator access to the 2nd level is available through the “A” Atrium entrance on the north side of the building.
  • Ramp access to the 2nd level is located near the Book Store on the first level.