Why Are Huge Numbers of Disabled Students Dropping Out of College?

S.E. Smith

When Andrea Chandler, a disabled Navy veteran, used her GI bill funds to go to college, she expected to graduate with a BA that would allow her to build a career and establish a new life for herself. Instead, she never completed the requirements that would have allowed her to transfer to a four-year college, joining the ranks of the many disabled students who are unable to attain a four year degree—despite the rising number of disabled students entering academia.

Today, an estimated 60% of disabled young adults make it to college after high school, yet nearly two thirds are unable to complete their degrees within six years. Is this the fault of their disabilities, or is something more complex at play? The testimony of disabled students suggests that the problem lies not with their disabilities, per se, but with the numerous barriers they encounter in higher education, from failing to provide blind students with readers, to the refusal to accommodate wheelchair users in otherwise accessible classrooms.

In Chandler’s case, going to college after leaving the Navy seemed like the logical next step, but she knew she would need help navigating campus with her wheelchair or service dog, depending on the pain levels caused by her fibromyalgia. She contacted her community college to request accommodations for her service dog, a German Shepherd named Sid, and was ordered to provide information above and beyond Department of Education requirements: