- The Wall Street Journal profiles the rise of college students declaring disabilities and requesting accommodations on campus, a figure which reaches as many as one in four on some elite campuses and is a growing factor in colleges’ efforts to provide extra time for examinations and physical space without distraction.
- The Journal reports that small, private institutions are most likely to have the greatest number of student disability declarations, with 93 of the nation’s top 100 institutions with the greatest percentages of students with disclosed physical, psychological or learning disabilities falling under this institution type. At public flagship institutions, students requesting special accommodations for testing increased by 71% within a sample of 22 campuses.
- Critics say that accommodations uneven the playing field against students who do not have them. The Journal cites a 171% increases in accommodations requests made to the College Board for SAT and PSAT examinations between 2010 and 2017, and a 94% approval rate for last year’s batch of requests. “The reason we pay all this money for the test is so that we can compare someone from South Dakota to someone from California,” Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, a special education and disability attorney told the Journal. ““If the test is no longer standardized, then what are we paying for?”
The number of students declaring disabilities may be increasing, but institutions have to be concerned with the outcomes of students granted the accommodations and if the cost-benefit ratio is mutually beneficial to both student and institution. In November, the Hechinger Report profiled disparities in graduation rates for students with declared disabilities, outlining how many students with one or more of the 13 federally-classified learning disabilities do not earn college degrees and struggle without resources in college.
One theory behind why private institutions seem to attract the majority of students with declared disabilities is because of perceptions of academic rigor, and the resources they can commit to addressing student needs. It becomes clear from initiatives those at Vanderbilt University, where officials are going against the trend of minimizing campus facility costs with plans to expand living and learning community buildings, that accommodations will be a driving factor in enrolling and graduating students, with or without disabilities, as higher education because smaller and more expensive in the years to come.