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Do Colleges Have to Follow IEPs or 504 Plans?
by Elizabeth Hamblet,

Note: This article is adapted from Do Colleges Have to Follow IEPs or 504 Plans? on Elizabeth Hamblet's site,

Elizabeth Hamblet is the author of From High School to College: Steps to Success for Students with Disabilities, a unique step-by-step guide for college-bound students, their families, and the educators and counselors who work with them.

We encourage you to read the articles about transition and related subjects on Elizabeth's site, She shares bonus content from her book and on other topics on the LDAdvisory blog..

I heard that colleges have to follow a student's IEP.

I heard that colleges don't have to follow an IEP, but they do have to follow 504 plans.

My friend said her child has a 504 plan at his college, so I had my child moved from an IEP to a 504 Plan so he can have accommodationsin college.

It's easy to understand why there is so much confusion about whether colleges have to follow the IEPs or Section 504 plans that students had in high school.

If you look at the text of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law that provides for IEPs, or at Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), you won't find any wording that explicitly says that students' plans "expire" or come to an end when students graduate from high school (or "age out" of the system).

The services in a student's IEP and/or a high school level Section 504 Plan end when the student graduates from high school.

Colleges may use these plans to help in decision making but they are not required to follow the requirements of these plans. But this doesn't mean colleges don't offer accommodations to eligible students.

Colleges often provide the same or similar accommodations if the accommodations are typically available at the college level, such as extended time for exams and permission to use a laptop for note-taking.

Another point is that students are not guaranteed services at college simply because they had a 504 plan or IEP in high school. To receive accommodations, the college must find the student eligible for services.

Some groups of students are more likely to have difficulty obtaining accommodations in college:

* students who were not diagnosed with a learning disability but who had difficulties in high school in a specific area, such as test taking;

* students who have test anxiety (not a recognized disability);

* students who are labeled as twice-exceptional (i.e., have intellectual gifts and also diagnosed as having a learning disability) but whose lowest scores on psycho-educational or neuropsychological testing are within the Average range.

A student who requests accommodations needs documentation that verifies the existence of a disability and substantial limitations in learning.

If students are not found eligible for accommodations at college, they can appeal the decision. Students should be aware that many colleges offer supports to all students. These supports include tutoring centers, counseling, and help with time management.

Another factor contributing to the confusion about 504 plans occurs when one parent tells another parent that her child has a 504 plan in college.

If a student with disabilities uses a special fee-for-service program at their college (ex. a program that provides additional supports for students on the autism spectrum), a staff member may write a plan that includes goals and outlines the supports this student will receive.

This plan is not a "504 plan," because Section 504 does not require colleges to write plans for students; they just have to provide accommodations to eligible students.


* 504 plans and IEPs end when a student graduates from high school or "ages out" of the system.

* Colleges are not required to follow 504 plans or IEPs developed in high school.

* Colleges are not required to provide accommodations because a student had accommodations in high school.

These takeaways are simply things you need to be aware of - not things to fear. Many students receive accommodations in college and are doing well!

Meet Elizabeth Hamblet

Elizabeth Hamblet is the author of From High School to College: Steps to Success for Students with Disabilities, a unique step-by-step guide for college-bound students, their families, and the educators and counselors who work with them.

In From High School to College: Steps to Success for Students with Disabilities you will learn about:

* the college disability services process,
* research on what makes students with disabilities successful at college,
* advice from college advisors on applying to schools
* admissions advice from deans at several colleges
* insights from college disability services directors, transition specialists, current college students, and
* the voices of students who made the transition.

Elizabeth works as a learning specialist/consultant at Columbia University, where she helps students with time management, organization, reading, and study skills.

We encourage you to visit where you will find dozens of articles about transition and related subjects. Elizabeth shares bonus content from her book and provides information on other topics on LDAdvisory blog..

Her writings on transition have been published in several national journals, including Teaching Exceptional Children, NASP Communique, and the National Association for College Admission Counseling. You can see a full listing of Elizabeth's published works on the Articles page of her site,


Elizabeth presents “Preparing Students with Disabilities for Successful College Transition,” a program that covers steps for successful transition in varying degrees of detail (1-6 hours). Presentations.

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