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July 7, 2021

Expanding Promise Symposium Design Team SPARK Talks: Students with Disabilities Design Team

On June 2nd, 2021, College Promise and ETS held day one of the Expanding Promise Symposium, a virtual event centered around the findings of five research design teams examining the wrap-around supports and financial sustainability solutions that best aid and enable different groups of students to enter and persist to, through, and beyond college into living wage jobs and community life. The symposium brought together students, researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and other Promise stakeholders to review and discuss scholarly insights for five key student populations: First-Generation Students, Youth In or Aged-Out of Foster Care, Students with Disabilities, Student Parents, and Students Needing Academic Support. The symposium’s programming included lightning-round talks, in which a member of each research design team gave a 5-minute presentation summarizing the findings and recommendations for their studied student population.  

Emily Tarconish is a fifth-year doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut working with Dr. Allison Lombardi. Tarconish represents the Students with Disabilities design team along with Ashley Taconet of University of Connecticut; Mary Lee Vance of Students With Disabilities; Tracy Sinclair of University of Connecticut; Richard Allegra of the National Center for College Students with Disabilities; Stephen Rose of the Urban Institute and the George Washington Institute of Public Policy; and Teri Adams of Stanford University.

Tarconish opened her Spark Talk by discussing the difficult nature of capturing information on students with disabilities by explaining, “about three-quarters of high school students with IEPs, those who receive special education services, plan to go on to college and complete it, but by the time that population actually comes to college only about 30% disclose their disability and request accommodations.” Tarconish went on to note the stark divide in college educational outcomes for this population, with 84% of students without disabilities graduating versus 61% of students with disabilities.

Financial difficulties are identified as a major barrier to success for students with disabilities as many have expenses beyond typical college costs, such as paying for medication, medical services, psychiatric services, or therapeutic services. Additionally, they could require additional academic supports such as extra tutoring, assistive technology devices, or an executive functioning coach. Lack of awareness of offered support and services is also noted as a major difficulty. Tarconish shares her personal story with this struggle explaining, “I was a student with a disability for six years in college in my master's program, and no one ever told me I was able to get accommodations. That is such a true statement for so many people in our country.”

The design team recommended Promise programs fund training to increase disability awareness and more actively promote the accommodations available for students with disabilities, as well as making accommodations opt-out rather than opt-in to decrease the burden on students. Further recommendations suggested actively identifying and funding any extra needs present in a student population and partnering with FAFSA to finance students with disabilities who take reduced course loads.

To learn more, watch the full recording here.

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