Ask the Attorney: What is the RISE Act and How Can It Help My College-Aged Student?

The Respond, Innovate, Succeed Empower (“RISE”) Act is a piece of legislation that, if it becomes law, will make college more accessible for students with disabilities, especially those who have learning and attention issues such as dyslexia or ADHD.Often, students with disabilities who receive support from their local school districts are forced to undergo additional testing if they want to continue receiving supports in post-secondary education. If enacted, the RISE Act will clarify that a prior IEP (or other forms of documentation) is enough to ensure the student will be eligible to continue receiving supports at the college or university they will attend. This will save the students and their families a significant amount of money.Many disability advocacy groups are working to get the RISE Act included as an amendment to the Higher Education Act. The Higher Education Act might be introduced soon – this means it’s important to learn about what this all means for you and your child, and how to take action.

Legislation 101: How a Bill Becomes a Law

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the RISE Act, let’s review how laws get passed in Congress. Congress is made up of two chambers: (1) the House of Representatives, and (2) the Senate. When a Member of Congress introduces an idea for a law, that idea is called a “bill.” Once introduced, the bill is referred to a Congressional Committee that oversees the general topic area in which the bill fits.In order for a proposed bill to become law, both chambers must introduce and eventually pass identical versions of the law. Passing the same law is not as easy at it sounds. If the House and Senate each pass different bills, these two versions will go to a Conference Committee. This is a smaller committee made up of members from the House and Senate who work to reach agreement on the inconsistencies. Once they reach a compromise, that final bill goes back to each chamber for a vote. Once passed, the bill goes to the President, who signs it into law.

Purpose of the RISE Act

The RISE Act presents three major problems that students with disabilities face on college campuses and provides legislative solutions to ensure these students can succeed at their institutions of higher education. Here is a brief overview of the identified issues:

  1. Many students with disabilities who received some type of accommodations in their K-12 schooling face a whole new set of requirements they must present to a college or university in order to continue receiving accommodations. This often means more testing, which is expensive.
  2. It is often challenging for students with disabilities and their families to figure out what services and supports a college or university offers. This makes it harder to determine which school will be a good fit for that student. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) reports that “only 6 out of 400 colleges provided any information about disability services on the U.S. Department of Education’s public website, College Navigator.”
  3. NCLD also reports that “more students with disabilities are enrolling in college than ever before, but just 45 percent of students with learning disabilities completed a 4-year degree compared to 53 percent of students without disabilities.” Thus, it is important that institutions and their staff have the tools they need to help students with disabilities succeed. This includes knowledge of accommodations and teaching strategies, as well as an overall understanding of learning disabilities and how they manifest in students.

To remedy the identified issues, the RISE Act proposes the following:

  • Provide families with information on disability services in one place so it will be easier for them to know what services are available and how to access them;
  • Require post-secondary institutions (colleges and universities) to accept IEPs, 504 plans, or other documentation as evidence of a disability if the student is trying to get accommodations to continue at that college or university; and
  • Provide training for college and university faculty members to learn more about students with disabilities and the needs they present.
Status of the RISE Act

The RISE Act has been introduced in the House and Senate, but it needs more support. If you want to make your voice heard, contact your local Representative and/or Senator and ask them to support the RISE Act. There is a template available online through NCLD that you can fill out and send right from your computer.Want to learn more? Check out NCLD’s one-pager on the RISE Act.References: NCLD