University of Houston-Victoria

Disability Services

Differences Between High School and College

The transition from high school to college presents changes and challenges for all students. Students with disabilities may find those challenges especially overwhelming.  The responsibilities of postsecondary institutions differ significantly from those of public school districts. There is no "special education" program at the college level, however, colleges are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of disability and are required to ensure equal access for otherwise qualified students with disabilities. This includes providing students with reasonable accommodations. Making the transition from high school to university life involves developing an understanding of the changes and types of accommodations that are reasonable at the postsecondary level.

Applicable Laws and Intent

High School


Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)
(Special Education)
Section 504, Part D Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 1990
ADA Amendments (ADAAA), 2008

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 1990
ADA Amendments (ADAAA), 2008
Section 504, Part E Rehabilitation Act of 1973

IDEA:  Education law - To provide a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment to identified students with disabilities, including special education and related services.
Section 504, Part D : To ensure that no otherwise qualified individual with a disability, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

ADAAA and Section 504, Part E: Civil Rights law – Requires that all students have access to the programs and activities offered at a post-secondary institution.  Students must meet all regular admission requirements and program requirements in order to be eligible to attend college. These laws ensure equal access but are not designed to guarantee student success. 

IDEA is an entitlement law under direction of the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education & Rehabilitation Services

504/ADA – Civil Rights law enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR)

Focus is on student SUCCESS

Focus is to ensure equal ACCESS to all educational opportunities, programs, & services

Curriculum standards may be modified in order to ensure success.

Reasonable accommodations may not lower the level of expectation or fundamentally alter the essential nature of a course, curriculum, or program.

Identification and Accommodation Process

High School


Public school is obligated to identify students with disabilities.

The student must “self-identify” to the Office of Disability Services.

Public school provides a full and individual assessment (FIA) at no cost to the student or family.

If student does not have documentation, he/she must obtain any required evaluation at their own expense.

Accommodations and modifications are designed to guarantee success and lead to HS graduation.

Accommodations help to ‘level the academic playing field’ so that students with disabilities have equal access to opportunity for success.

Public school has primary responsibility for arranging accommodations.
Parents, teachers, and counselors often are the lead advocates for the student.

The student is responsible for self-advocacy and arranging for accommodations.
Disability office advocates for accessibility.

Parents and teachers are responsible for monitoring attendance, homework, and course progress.

Students are responsible for monitoring their own attendance to classes, completing homework, and knowing course progress.

Role of Parent and Student

High School


Parents and teachers are responsible for monitoring attendance, homework, and course progress

Students are responsible for monitoring their class attendance, homework completion on time, and knowing their progress in the course.

School personnel and parents manage most of your time

Student is responsible for managing his/her own time.

Parents and teachers remind you of your responsibilities and help guide you in setting priorities.

Student is on their own and must balance responsibilities and set priorities.

Parent has full access to student records and participates in the accommodation process, and can conference with teachers to discuss issues/concerns (until student is 18).

Parent does not have access to student records unless student provides written consent; staff or faculty cannot discuss the student’s academic progress or other issues with parents unless the student has given permission; the student must be present to discuss any disability services issues and only the student can make any changes in services.