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Transitioning to College

While there are many differences between the K-12 or employment environment and postsecondary education, the following underlying changes provide many of the challenges experienced by all students.

Students' New Experience


    Rights and Responsibilities of College Students

    Accommodations in postsecondary education are governed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is no longer applicable. It is important to understand the differences between the laws and the new rights and responsibilities your student will have while attending a postsecondary institution. Additionally it will be important to understand the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and how that applies to student records, including disability documentation records.

    Section 504 and ADA

    Institutions shall make modifications to its academic requirements as are necessary to ensure that such requirements do not discriminate or have the effect of discriminating, on the basis of handicap, against a qualified applicant or student.(104.44[a]).

    The postsecondary education system is not covered by IDEA, but instead by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and Subpart E of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112). These laws establish what colleges need to do to support equal opportunity for students with disabilities to participate in a college or postsecondary program or activity. Postsecondary programs or colleges are not required to lower academic standards to accommodate a student with a disability.

    • Students are eligible for academic adjustments, program modifications and auxiliary aids/services, but are not eligible for specially designed instruction offered under IDEA.
    • The college has no obligation to identify students with disabilities, but only to inform applicants of the availability of auxiliary aids/services, program modifications and academic adjustments.
    • Students must self-identify, provide documentation of their disability and the need for the academic adjustments, program modifications and auxiliary aids and services they request. The categories of disability, the type of documentation required and who is qualified to conduct the assessment(s) may be different than K-12.
    • Students only receive necessary supports (e.g., academic adjustments, program modifications, and auxiliary aids/services) that provide equal opportunity for them to access education.
    • Any alteration in course or program requirements (i.e., extended time to complete program, substitution or waiver of program requirements) usually requires the approval from the college and must be directly related to needs identified in a student's documentation of disability.

    What to Expect

    The provision of any accommodation must be initiated by the student. In other words, the university will not know an accommodation is needed until a student tells the university the accommodation is needed. Requests for accommodations are made through the Disability Resource & Support Center. Verification of a student’s eligibility for an accommodation is based on evidence, including documentation, that a student has a disability that impacts a major life activity. Students are expected to be self-advocates in terms of meeting their needs as students.

    Students with disabilities are expected to meet the same criteria as any other student in both the admissions process as well as meet the University requirements for graduation. Substitution for courses may be allowed to meet specific requirements; waivers for meeting essential criteria, however, are normally not considered appropriate accommodations

    Some courses require attendance which is often factored into the final grade. Students are expected to meet attendance requirements as part of the fundamental nature of a course. While some flexibility may be negotiated with individual instructors because of the effects of a disability, there is no guarantee flexibility will be appropriate for any type of course.

    Students should be prepared to develop competencies in written and oral communication, mathematics, logical and critical thinking through the general education curriculum. Foundations and perspectives in the sciences, arts and humanities, social and behavioral sciences, history, global and cultural awareness, U.S. public values and institutions, and health and wellness are also part of this curriculum. The requirements of the general education curriculum and a student’s major are combined requirements for graduation from CSU-Pueblo.

    While some classes may present hands-on learning opportunities, many of the academic programs offered by CSU-Pueblo are theory-based. A student can expect a learning environment that is dependent not only on lectures and textbooks but also on self-initiative since a student is expected to be responsible for their own learning process.

    The method to demonstrate mastery of knowledge is commonly at the discretion of instructors. While some courses require this demonstration through papers and projects, students are more likely required to illustrate how much they know through exams. Although some instructors may factor student effort into determining final grades, passing a course is dependent upon how well a student can demonstrate that the material was learned. Because exams are usually the method used to measure mastery of knowledge, reasonable accommodations for exams may include extra time, a reader, scribe or assistive technology, all available through the Disability Resource & Support Center.

    The majority of faculty are more than willing to meet with individual students to enhance the task of mastering course content. However, it is expected that students are primarily responsible for their own learning process. Students are encouraged to seek out resources that may enhance their study skills and/or supplement their classroom instruction (e.g., tutoring).

    A grade point average is calculated as a ratio of the cumulative number of credits a student has and the cumulative quality points from each letter grade received (for example, A=4 quality points, B=3 quality point, etc.). Students who maintain a cumulative 2.0 GPA or above are considered in good standing with the University. Students who fall below a 2.0 cumulative GPA will be placed on academic probation. Students then have two semesters for undergraduates and one semester for graduate students, in which to raise their cumulative GPA to a 2.0 or better. At the end of academic probation semesters, if a student’s cumulative GPA is still below a 2.0, the student will be dismissed from the University.


    Increase in Complexity and Unpredictability

    The typical college environment is more complex and unpredictable than the high school environment in terms of daily schedules, course selection, course expectations, and access to resources.

    Daily Schedule

    • Classes vary in length and number of days. e.g., 2 days for 90 minutes or 3 days a week for an hour.
    • There are no bells. Students must know when they need to be at class and monitor the time.
    • One class might be right after the other as in high school, or students may have a block of time between classes.
    • Students choose when they stop for coffee, use the restrooms, smoke, and when to go to class, or study.
    • Classes may be in multiple buildings.
    • All classrooms may not be accessible, so students may need to register early to request an accessible classroom location.

    Course Selection and Expectations

    • College course format, instructional strategies and expectations may be different than in high school courses.
    • There are more choices of instructors, courses and course requirements.
    • Students need to know how they learn best, what type of instructional formats and styles work best for them, and how to use this information in selecting courses.
    • There is no one person who ensures students complete the right courses and are on the path for earning credits toward graduation; students need to do this themselves or seek advice from academic or department advisors.
    • Instructors rarely teach directly from the text and often lecture for the entire class period.
    • Instructors often plan their courses so that students do a lot of their learning outside of class including acquiring knowledge and facts from outside reading and library research.
    • Most successful students expect to spend 2-3 hours of studying for each hour they are in class, and students with disabilities may need to plan on a few more hours.


    • Students need to identify and access any necessary support services.
    • Services on a college campus are often more expansive than in K-12 system (e.g., health center, bookstores, women's centers, and mental health counseling).
    • Students need to know what supports they require and in what office they might find them.
    • Services are located in different buildings and often have different names than in high school.

    Change in Student Responsibilities

    The type of high school a student attended, the expectations that their families placed on them, and the type of postsecondary program they choose to attend, may influence the differences the student will experience. Consider the following areas:

    Student freedom

    • Students are expected to be responsible for their choices and, thus, need to have good problem solving, self-advocacy, decision making, and communication skills.
    • Faculty often will assist students if the student initiates the contact.
    • Support systems are available in college (e.g., academic advising, supplemental instruction, academic learning centers, resident assistant, disability services staff), but the student must seek those out, ask for the help, and follow through.

    Life skills

    • Students who begin college after high school may not only be adjusting to a new learning environment but very possibly, even a new city and friends.
    • It may be the first time they are living on their own. They may need to learn to budget their money, cook, maintain an apartment, and learn how to live with a roommate.

    Peer network

    • If peers do not attend the same college, students may be without a support system of friends.
    • During high school students often depend on their family and peers for support in problem solving, decision making and day-to-day activities, thus they may need a new support network.
    • College activities, organizations, and support groups can help to build new networks.

Information for Families


    Changing Expectations

    As a parent, many of your previous rights now transfer to your student once they are enrolled in college. You are still afforded some rights regarding your student’s educational endeavors. However, these are more limited than for K-12. For more information as to what you may or may not expect, please visit the website for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

    Higher Education Expectations

    Students with disabilities have a right to participate in a college education as long as they are qualified in meeting college and university admission requirements. However, education beyond K-12 is still considered a privilege and not an entitlement. Graduation from college is not guaranteed. Graduation is "earned" through the fulfillment of specific course requirements. Failure to meet those requirements may result in a failure to graduate.

    As a general practice, an instructor in higher education has the authority to institute certain requirements for their course. These requirements are usually spelled out in a course syllabus. It is the student’s responsibility to meet these requirements in order to receive a grade for the course. How well the student fulfills these requirements will often determine the type of grade the student will receive.

    Accommodations are provided for students to assist in meeting these requirements. Rarely, if ever, is an accommodation implemented that negates any of the requirements, or an essential element, of a course. If such an accommodation is needed, then the student may be considered otherwise not qualified, especially if it is determined that the requirement is fundamental to the course material or how the course is delivered. This general rule also applies to academic major programs.

    For example, some courses have strict attendance policies. Depending upon the nature of the course, this requirement may not be one that is negotiable as an accommodation. Laboratory courses, in particular, often build on each other and missing one or two puts a student at a distinct disadvantage. If a student is unable to meet the attendance requirement due to a particular disability, the student may not be considered able to fulfill the requirements of the course.

    Some courses may institute "make-up" sessions in response to unavoidable absences. It will be the responsibility of the student to choose to attend these sessions if the student is to avoid the consequences of missed sessions.

    Accommodations must be requested prior to when the accommodation is needed. For example, if a student does not utilize extra time on an exam and does poorly and then request extra time on the next exam, the grade for the first exam stands. Accommodations are not retroactive.

    A student who has a disability that affects their ability to fulfill specific requirements of a course may request an adjustment in fulfilling the requirements. As with all accommodations, however, this request must be made prior to the time fulfilling the requirement is an issue unless there are unforeseen circumstances. Again, if the requirement is fundamental to the nature of the course or program of study, an adjustment is not required by law.


    Who Advocates?

    At the age of 18, your student is now considered an adult. As an adult, your student is expected to make decisions and be accountable for those decisions. As a parent of a college student, your role changes once your student is enrolled. While your support of your student is essential to their success, how you provide that support may differ from the strategies you’ve had to employ while navigating the K-12 system.

    While you may have been responsible for advocating for your student in the K-12 system, at the college level your involvement will take a backseat to your student’s self-responsibility. That means when something comes up that creates an unfavorable situation your student will be expected to resolve the issue, not you. Instructors and administrators working with your student will not likely discuss issues with you unless your student gives written permission to do so. Even then, the instructor or administrator will consider your student an adult and responsible for their behavior.

    You may be tempted to assist your student in resolving specific situations by contacting individuals at the university. Those individuals may or may not be amenable to your involvement. Instead, it is suggested that you encourage your student to talk directly to the individuals who have influence over the resolution of the situation. It can be an opportunity for your student to learn how to handle life events independently.


    How to Help

    Do encourage your student:

    • To pay attention to the requirements of a particular course or academic program
    • To determine whether or not the requirements are manageable for themselves
    • To discuss possible accommodations that might be needed with DRSC staff
    • To seek appropriate assistance when problems arise
    • To meet with their instructors and other administrators when needed
    • To find different strategies when old habits no longer are effective
    • To realize that not all things in life will go as they planned
    • To be responsible for their behavior
    • To learn to deal with the consequences of mistakes if they are made
    • To not give up when things seem unfavorable to their situation

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