Essential College Resources for Students with an IEP or 504 Plan



IEP and 504 Plan

For students applying to college with an IEP or 504 Plan, it is important to understand how to best navigate the admission process.  We will help you discover the basics of an IEP and 504 Plan, expectations in college, and what do expect once you begin your college tenure.

The Basics

What is an IEP?  An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan which is developed by a team of educators for a particular student.  The plan will detail how their education will be individualized in a classroom setting to best support them during their time in class.  IEP’s are a byproduct of the federal law known at The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governing special education services for children from 3 to 21 years of age.  The essence of the IEP is to allow information delivery, curriculum, and testing modifications to be made for a particular student to help them meet and exceed educational goals.

What is a 504 Plan?  A 504 Plan is derived from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which protects a qualified student with disabilities from discrimination.  The Act governs any college or public school that accepts federal funds while not providing funding itself for compliance.  It is comprised of seven sections with Subsection E mandating a postsecondary institution provide students with a qualified disability the opportunity to complete a degree like all non-disabled students.

What is the difference between an IEP and 504 Plan?  In short, an IEP is a specifically designed plan for students with disabilities that require specialized instruction while a 504 Plan is geared towards documenting measurable student growth.  In fact, a 504 Plan does not require specialized classroom instruction but may include accommodations for a qualified student with a learning disability, physical impairment, disease, and/or allergy.

What do IEP’s and 504 Plans look like in college?  If you are looking to apply for a 504 Plan in college, you will transfer the bulk of the responsibility to yourself.  You will need to advocate for yourself and communicate regularly with the school to ensure things are proceeding according to plan.  On the other hand, an IEP does not exist in college.  Per IDEA 2004, you will want to begin working on a transition plan to acquire life-skills and independence in conjunction with educational training for college.  Transition plans may include helping you search for the right college, scholarships, financial aid, self-advocacy tools, time management skills, and effective organization habits.

Moving from High School to College with an IEP or 504 Plan

Once you start your college journey, you will no longer have an IEP.  The college is required by law to provide access to qualified students but not measure growth as seen in primary and secondary public schools.  That being said, you may still benefit from a 504 Plan to provide a reasonable classroom accommodation to help you succeed in school.  It is now incumbent upon you to self-identify, properly document your disability, and succinctly communicate specific needs to your school.

IEP and 504 Plan Frequently Asked Questions

Whom do ask for help?  All accredited colleges and universities in the U.S. that accept federal funding are required to have an office or designated person to help ensure equal access for all students.  While the title may differ from school to school (ranging from Disability Services Coordinator to ADA Coordinator to Special Services Manager) their job responsibilities remain the same from institution to institution.  Take a moment to look in the student manual, college website, or school handbook to find the right person to contact as they will not seek you out.  You will need to independently seek them out and continue to advocate for yourself.

Can I just ask my professor for help?   Your professor is under no obligation to provide classroom accommodations to you.  You will need to ask for help from the school’s designated Special Services team.  This information will flow from the administrative offices to the classroom and not vice versa.  Please do not ask your college professors for classroom accommodations.  The school’s Special Services team will generate a written authorization to your professor who will, in turn, provide the necessary accommodations in class.

 When should I ask for accommodations?  The sooner in the process you ask, the better off you will be in class.  In addition, if the request comes with a series of logistical changes or classroom modifications to be put in place, you will want to ask for an accommodation as soon as possible so things can be put into place.  If you wait for two months to ask for a classroom accommodation and it takes three weeks to put an accommodation in place, you may struggle in the interim and be relegated to keep any/all grades up to that point in time.  Again, the sooner the better.

What is the cost for accommodations in college?  There is no cost to you for a school-approved accommodation that ensures equal access for a student with a disability.  That being said, a school may charge you for extra accommodations not customarily provided to all students.

Can I choose when and where to utilize these accommodations?  Yes, it is up to you to disclose a disability to your professor or not.  Likewise, if an accommodation or adjustment is approved by the school’s Special Services team you have the prerogative whether to use it or not.

Does the college provide personal services?  Colleges and universities are not obligated to provide services of a personal nature to any student.  In other words, if you require special medical devices, transportation, hygiene, or psychological services you will need to coordinate each one on your own at your expense.

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