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 Disability Support Services in Community Colleges 

Approximately 45% of undergraduates with a disability are enrolled at public two year institutions, according to National Postsecondary Student Aid Study data (NCES, 2008). The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) conducted a national survey in 1996 with support from the U.S. Department of Education to gather information about students with disabilities and the range of disability support services in community colleges. This report found that only half of the community college students who reported having a disability used disability support services (Barnett, 1996).

AACC conducted a similar survey in 2006 whose objective was to update the earlier information about staffing, services, and activities related to students with disabilities. Unfortunately, it garnered a disappointingly low response rate. Researchers surmised that the lack of a single point of contact at colleges for collecting data about students with disabilities could be the reason for the low response rate to the online survey. Although the findings from the survey were not statistically significant, some insights about staffing, services, and activities were gained from the institutions that participated in the survey.

The 2006 survey showed that community colleges were creatively meeting the needs of students with disabilities.  Nearly three-quarters of the respondents reported having a dedicated office for disability service services; colleges without a dedicated office averaged only 2 FTE staff to support students with disabilities.

The top five disability categories for which community colleges reported services were:

  • learning disabilities
  • emotional or psychiatric condition
  • orthopedic or mobility impairment
  • attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and
  • health impairment. 

The most commonly reported accommodations and services provided by community colleges were academic counseling, note takers/scribes/ readers, testing accommodations, alternative media, and tutoring services.

Other disabilities reported in smaller numbers included the categories of developmental disabilities, deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, and brain injury. Speech and language impairments, HIV/AIDs, and autism spectrum disorders were the least frequently reported categories of disability.

National data trends show that the reporting of learning disabilities grew significantly in the 1990s.  Of those surveyed by AACC, the average number of students registered for a college’s disability support services in that category was 111, twice as many as the other categories.  The accommodations noted above reflect a concentration of resources for learning disabilities.

National data trends also show that students with disabilities are most commonly found in two-year institutions and in recent years completion rates for community college students with disabilities have increased from 11% in 2003 to 16% in 2007 (NCES 2004, NCES 2008).

The AACC respondents emphasized the crucial need for partnerships within the community, especially with high schools, rehabilitation centers, and vocational education institutions.  Top activities of recruitment, academic success and post- collegiate goals reported include faculty and staff training on compliance with regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, transition services from high school to college, and disability awareness in the community.


  • National Center for Education Statistics. (2004). National Postsecondary Student Aid Study 2003–04.  Washington DC:  U.S. Department of Education.  Available from the Data Analysis System Web site,
  • National Center for Education Statistics. (2008). National Postsecondary Student Aid Study 2007–08.  Washington DC:  U.S. Department of Education.  Available from the Data Analysis System Web site,
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