College Students with Disabilities: The Big Picture

Thinking about how best to serve college students with disabilities is how accommodations coordinators and other services staff spend much of their time. And it’s through these departments across the US that universities and community colleges provide better access for all.

By looking at the national picture, we can see both the impact accommodations are making on student attainment and the challenges we still face in promoting equity in education. Take a look at our infographic below to get the big picture:


A Few Headline Stats:

  • It’s estimated that there are 4.6 million adults in the US with a learning disability
  • Students with disabilities make up around 11% of the college student population
  • This accounted for 2,559,100 students in 2012
  • Rate of completion for college students with disabilities was 41% in comparison with 51% of students without a disability
  • Only 34% of 4-year college students with disabilities graduate from their program
  • 42.6% of all higher education institutions offer orientation or transition programs

What else do we know?

College graduates with a disability have a much higher rate of unemployment than degree holders without disabilities

Students that accessed accommodations in their first year were much more likely to persist than students who did not

Several studies point to the importance of Disability Support Staff in building student confidence and success. Students often describe these personnel as combining the roles of mentor, friend and guide.


What can we do with this info?

  • Making sure students are aware of the services available to them by promoting Disability Services has been shown to improve uptake of accommodations
  • Offering one-to-one support has been especially valued by students with disabilities
  • Using accommodations that help build independent learning skills can increase student confidence and retention
  • Creating specialist transition programs can help students adjust to life at college

Read More

The Sonocent Blog is a platform built especially for those who work to improve learning outcomes for their students. Whether you work in Disability Support, Student Services or in any other capacity in Higher Ed, we’re always creating new content to help you improve access and create truly inclusive learning environments.

Works cited:

“Perspectives of North American Postsecondary Students with Learning Disabilities: A Scoping Review” by Amy Lightfoot et al, The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, Vol. 31, Issue 1, (pp. 57 – 74)

“Accommodations and Support Services for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A National Survey of Disability Resource Providers” by Kirsten R. Brown, The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, Vol. 30, Issue 2, (pp. 141-156)

Use our printable infographic to track how your institution matches up to the national averages!

Any thoughts on what you just read?