Oklahoma’s colleges and universities are serving more students with disabilities than in years past, and the trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
According to a survey conducted by the Council on Student Affairs (COSA), a key advisory council to the chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education regarding issues and policies affecting students, the number of disabled students served by the state’s higher education institutions increased 57.3 percent from 2000 to 2004. In 2004 alone, nearly 3,600 students with disabilities were enrolled in an Oklahoma college or university.
Higher education officials say they expect to see even more students requesting disability services during the next five years.
“Meeting the needs of all students on our college campuses and helping them succeed is important to our higher education institutions,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “The fact that so many students with disabilities are enrolling in college is outstanding, and we need to continue providing them with the services and programs that will help them achieve their goal of earning a college degree.”
Twenty-three institutions responded to the survey, including one independent institution. All of the respondents indicated that their college or university offered at least the minimal accommodations and auxiliary aids for all students with disabilities as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Most institutions, however, did more than what was federally mandated.
The report also revealed that colleges and universities spent almost $9 million on ADA compliance and program services in 2004. And officials expect that figure to increase, citing increasing enrollments, continuing architectural expenditures and meeting requirements as directed by House Bill 2197, the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility law.
HB 2197, which state lawmakers passed in 2004, obligates public and independent institutions to provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access and equal opportunity to any program, goods or services, including information technology.
Another noteworthy finding gleaned from the survey was that retention rates for first-time students with disabilities varied little from the retention rates for all first-time students.
Because of these and other findings, COSA officials say they would like to have the survey presented to the State Regents annually to show what continued challenges institutions face as they attempt to meet all of the state and federally mandated disability requirements. They also have recommended that research be conducted to ensure that students with disabilities have access to higher education in Oklahoma and are given every opportunity to succeed.
“It’s pretty clear from this and earlier surveys that the demand for programs and services among students with disabilities will continue to escalate, especially as enrollments climb across the state system,” State Regents’ Chairman Cheryl Hunter said. “Our institutions should continue to assess what they are doing in response to that demand and do everything reasonably possible to accommodate those students.”