Section 504 for College Students

By Joan M. Azarva, Ms. ED


When students enter college the IDEA no longer provides protections for those who have been receiving services for LD or ADHD • College students can still receive accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, but it is at the discretion of the Disability Services Director • The time to put in place the information that will determine your eligibility is before you begin college

2.10.12-504-CollegeIf your teen with LD or ADHD received services in high school under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it is important to understand that upon entering college, IDEA no longer applies. The familiar IEP, and all the protection it provides, disappears when students cross the threshold to higher education.

At the college level, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act replaces IDEA and is the law under which students with learning disabilities receive protection.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means in order to receive accommodations, college applicants must submit appropriate documentation to the college’s Office of Disability Services. It is at the discretion of the director of this office that accommodations are granted or denied.

It also means that the onus of success suddenly shifts from the school to the student. Students are treated as adults and expected to assume responsibility for meeting their needs.

How to Qualify for Accommodations

Under Section 504, all colleges that receive federal funding (most public and private colleges) are obligated to accommodate students with LD. In the rare instance that a private school doesn’t accept federal funds, that institution is held to a lower standard and is not expected to go out of its way to support students with LD to the same extent that other colleges do.

However, even among colleges that accept federal funds, there are variations in the accommodations a student may receive. That’s because the decision, made by the disabilities director, is subjective. Therefore, it behooves parents and students to be vigilant about the following factors:

  • The documentation submitted to the college should provide clear evidence of need and document a history of use of the accommodations requested. Colleges generally look for a psycho-educational evaluation that has been completed within three years of starting college. The final page of the written report should list recommended accommodations for college based on evaluation results and what the student has historically used. If you or your child feel a necessary accommodation has been omitted, suggest it to the evaluator as this list plays a major role in the accommodations the director of disabilities chooses to dispense.
  • Upon entering college, teens need to be able to fluently articulate their disability and its effects. They also must be proficient at self-advocacy .
  • The school selected should be, at the very least, “LD-friendly.” If professors show impatience with students, or the Disabilities Service Office isn’t welcoming, consider crossing that college off your list.

The differences between IDEA and 504 are vast. Prior to the transition, students and parents should be aware of the changes that lie ahead to avoid unforeseen problems when embarking on this new educational chapter.

Joan M. Azarva runs Conquer College with LD, a website for parents of college-bound students with learning differences. She also has a private practice in the Philadelphia suburbs that focuses on helping students make the successful transition from high school to college.

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