Mandates: High School vs. College

Public school systems and post-secondary institutions have different mandates. Because public school systems are required to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education to all students, they must identify, diagnose, and accommodate students. To that end, public school systems expect classroom teachers to identify students with suspected disabilities and employ diagnosticians to test students to determine the nature and degree of disabilities. Public schools must provide appropriate programs and services to support the needs of those students with diagnosed disabilities.

Colleges, on the other hand, are not obligated to identify and diagnose. Colleges are obligated to provide reasonable academic accommodations to students with disabilities. Students are obligated to identify themselves as students with disabilities and to provide appropriate supporting documentation.

For some previously undiagnosed students, disability concerns emerge initially during the college years when students and instructors detect a significant discrepancy between effort and performance. In these instances, students bear the cost of diagnostic testing. A disability must be diagnosed and documented before the student would be eligible for accommodations.

College admissions officers must evaluate applicants with and without disabilities using the same criteria and admit those who meet that criteria. Course instructors must hold all students to the same standards, though students with disabilities might meet those standards in different ways.