Live from #AACRAO2023: Improving Outcomes for Students with Disabilities in Higher Education

March 31, 2023
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Access and Equity
Group of students at a graduation ceremony, one of whom is utilizing a wheelchair.

By Heather Zimar, AACRAO Associate Director of Publications & Journals

At the 108th AACRAO Annual Meeting, Carl Einhaus of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, shared with attendees his effort to improve the outcomes for students with disabilities in higher education through drafting legislation in the state. 

When I started in the Colorado Department of Higher Education, I felt the weight of this position, said Einhaus, a former higher education admissions practitioner. I thought I would be able to serve students at the macro level.

After a student, who identified as being on the autism spectrum, filed a complaint with the department for having trouble getting the accommodations he needed at various colleges and universities in the state, Einhaus brought together a special projects group that included members of disability services offices at institutions across the state. 

A survey was developed in 2020 to gauge what was happening in disability services across public and private institutions and what their needs were. The survey looked at how many students were being served and not being served as well as the demographics of students with disabilities. The survey also looked at the recording and tracking of students with disabilities. 

We had a total of 43 responses, he said. We had a really great response rate, and we learned some really great information.

The top needs, according to the survey, included: 

  • Transition culture from burden to inclusivity

  • Outcome data to better serve students

  • Access to institutional data for better analysis

  • Better means/applications to collect and store student info

  • Enough staff to serve growing student population

  • Awareness of outreach

  • Accessible technology and digital content 

  • Additional resources 

  • Unified statewide data on accommodations and services as well as student conditions/diagnosis

Einahus and the special project group presented these findings to Colorado presidents and chancellors and asked for support to serve students better. 

They received it; they listened; but I could tell it wasn’t a priority for them, Einhaus said. There really wasn’t any feedback from them. So we decided to write a bill.

The group sold the idea to CDHE leadership, received approval from the governor’s office, wrote the bill, identified legislative sponsors, engaged stakeholders, and testified. Colorado passed HB22-1255 last year. 

It was a journey, Einhaus said. It took about six or seven years for this bill to become a reality.

The bill has two components- 

  1. Statewide collection of data from IHEs, with the first report due in January 2024. This will include data on the number of students with disabilities, including race, ethnicity, first-generation, Pell, and military status. In addition, data will include students service, support, or accommodation related to the student’s disability with demographics. Data will also include fall-to-fall retention rates for students with disabilities. 

  2. Create an advisory committee charged with making recommendations to the General Assembly, with two different reports due in June 2023 and June 2023. Recommendations must include outcomes and if they are impacted by different intersectionality (race/ethnicity, veteran status, etc.), availability of financial support, recommendations for resources, statutory, and policy changes. 

Einhaus noted the goal is that Colorado becomes the world leader in serving students with disabilities. In addition, he said he is hopeful that more states will do this. Then, he said, changes will start happening at the national level.


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