Helpful Info, Tips & Resources

How can parents and teachers help students with disabilities prepare for postsecondary education?

Parents and secondary teachers will no longer have a say in the accommodations their students receive in post-secondary school.  Post-secondary students are treated as adults and are expected to make these decisions on their own.  In some cases, disability services may keep students’ information confidential from parents.  Therefore, it is important that parents and teachers help to prepare their students for the greater responsibility that will be required of them. They can provide information to students about their disability and the kinds of supports that they will need to request in post-secondary education. Parents and teachers can also help prepare the student by teaching and reinforcing self-determination, self-advocacy, and career development skills, and by facilitating an internal locus of control (sense of responsibility and control over one’s own future). They can also help students explore the issues outlined in this document.

What are students’ rights in post-secondary schools?

In secondary school, students with disabilities have a right to a free and appropriate public education under the mandates of IDEA. However, in post-secondary education, IDEA no longer applies. The civil rights laws that cover the post-secondary educational experiences of students with disabilities are presented in section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to these laws, students with disabilities have a right to equal access to educational programs and related activities, and to reasonable accommodations. The definition for reasonable accommodations is, however, vague, and sometimes determined in the courts. What students need to know is that by law, post-secondary institutions must provide reasonable accommodations to help students fully participate in their educational experience. It is important to keep in mind the difference between the individualized education required by the IDEA in secondary school and “access” required by civil rights laws in post-secondary schools. Post-secondary schools are not required to redesign their programs, but to give accommodations that increase access to already existing programs.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) also known as the Buckley Amendment, helps protect the privacy of student records. Under FERPA, eligible students have the right to inspect and review their education records; seek amendment of any records believed to be inaccurate; consent to disclosure of education records except to the extent that FERPA authorizes disclosure without consent; and to file a complaint with FPCO concerning potential violations. FERPA applies to students who are currently (or formerly) enrolled in higher education, regardless of age or status. Grand Valley provides all students with full access to their records either in person or by use of the university website. FERPA identifies college students as adults responsible for determining who may receive information about them. While guardians/parents understandably have an interest in a student’s academic progress, they are not automatically granted access to a student’s records without written consent of the student. Students can provide view access to their online records using the Guardian/Family Access tab in myBanner. Guardians/Parents are encouraged to consult with the student if academic information is needed.

So What’s a Parent to Do?

The post-secondary years provide students with both new freedoms and new responsibilities. Many students are living away from home for the first time or are new to making personal decisions on their own. Parents are naturally concerned about the safety, health, and social adjustment of their sons and daughters. Disability-related issues can make this an even more challenging time for students and parents. However, there is help available.

Materials for parents of college students, such as the previously mentioned book by Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller, can be found on the shelves of local bookstores and libraries. Several Web sites have also been created for the parents of college students. Many colleges and universities, for example, provide tips for parents on their Web sites. Unfortunately, these resources do not address the many unique challenges faced by students with disabilities and their families.

Information developed specifically for the parents of high school students with disabilities, on the other hand, does not cover parenting issues during the college years. These materials generally try to help parents prepare youth for the transition to post-secondary education,
find financial aid, and learn about the ADA and Section 504. The benefits of family support may be mentioned, but what this support looks like at the post-secondary level is not described. In fact, an emphasis in recent transition literature on overprotective parenting and learned helplessness has given some parents and educators the mistaken impression that parent involvement is wholly undesirable at the post-secondary level.

Although not widely available, a handful of recent studies confirm the value of the support parents provide at the post-secondary level and indicate that active parent involvement can foster, rather than hinder, self-determination. Additional studies and research-based guidance
on these issues is needed to help parents effectively support their sons and daughters with disabilities in the post-secondary years.

FAQ Regarding Academic Matters:

Am I allowed to call and ask questions about my student’s class performance?

According to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974) faculty and staff cannot discuss your student’s academic records unless your student grants written permission for disclosures by designated university employees (faculty or administrators). Steps on how your student can grant access can be found on the Registrar’s Web page in the section for Parents.

What happens if my student is late paying for tuition?

If a student does not pay for tuition on time, they will be dropped from all registered courses effective immediately following the payment deadline. Payment after the deadline does not guarantee a student a seat in the classes previously registered for; they will have to enroll in classes that still have available seats.

What happens if my student misses an exam?

While attendance policies can be class and instructor specific, GVSU students are expected to attend class, to turn in work on the scheduled due date, and to take all exams at the scheduled date and time. If a student misses class for an illness or for a family emergency, documentation may be required prior to an opportunity to discuss accommodations. Faculty are not expected to provide opportunities to make up exams or class assignments for unexcused absences. In particular, your student is expected to take the final examination on the scheduled day and time, so please consider your student’s exam schedule when planning family vacations. What happens if my student chooses to retake a course previously completed? A student may repeat any course one time. The grade for the second attempt will be the grade on record and will be figured into their grade point average, but all course attempts will remain on the official transcript. Repeating a course more than once is only allowed by the approval of the student’s academic advisor and the department, and will generally only get approved for classes that are not in the student’s major field of study.

Resources for Parents

Visit the PACER Center or National Center on Secondary Education and Transition Web sites for more online resources that can help parents of post-secondary youth with disabilities.

Harris, M.B., & Jones, S.L. (1996). The Parent’s Crash Course in Career Planning: Helping Your College Student Succeed. VGM Career Horizons.

Johnson, H.E., & Schelhas-Miller, S. (2000). Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money—The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years. St. Martin’s Griffin.

Newman, B.M., & Newman, P.R. (1992). When Kids Go to College: A Parent’s Guide to Changing Relationships. Ohio State University Press.

Page last modified June 9, 2023