5 Ways to Improve Postsecondary Attainment for Arizona Students with Disabilities

The Arizona Board of Regents made history last week when it released the 2021 Postsecondary  Attainment Report and, for the first time, included disaggregated data for students with  disabilities. 

The invaluable report informs the state about the postsecondary enrollment and completion of  Arizona’s high school graduates. Previous versions of the annual report have disaggregated data  by gender, race and ethnicity. Now students with disabilities will also benefit from the report.  

A Disheartening First Look  

The numbers from the report, detailed below, are initially stunning and disheartening: students  with disabilities are far behind their peers. This is especially troubling considering that most  students receiving special education services should be achieving on par with their peers if they  receive the services and support to which they are entitled. In Arizona, nearly 65% of students with disabilities come from three categories of disabilities  that are considered to be mild in nature such as dyslexia, speech impairment or attention  deficit disorder. Indeed only 5% of Arizona students with disabilities have an intellectual  disability as their primary diagnosis. Nationwide, it has been estimated that 80-85% of students  with disabilities could achieve at similar levels as their peers if given the necessary services,  supports and accommodations. 

Key Findings


In 2016, Arizona adopted the goal that 60% of adults ages 25-64 would hold a professional  certificate or college degree by 2030. Achieve60AZ has sparked numerous conversations and 

initiatives to increase postsecondary attainment, but—until now—there has never been a focus  on our students with disabilities even though they comprise approximately 13% of the state’s K 12 population. 

The 2021 Postsecondary Attainment Report dataset allows Arizona to add students with  disabilities to the state’s strategic plans. While the initial data may be discouraging, it gives us  an important baseline to begin developing solutions, setting goals and measuring progress so  we can include students with disabilities in Achieve60AZ efforts. 


Now that we are armed with this new data, there are some ways the state can act to improve  postsecondary attainment of our students with disabilities: 

1. Include this new data into the Arizona Progress Meter. Currently the Post-High School  Enrollment and Attainment metrics do not have disaggregated data for students with  disabilities. Further, let’s ensure that goals and metrics for students with disabilities are  included in the Board of Regents’ Strategic Plan. 

2. Create a statewide college access program for students with disabilities. College access  programs are traditionally non-profit organizations that work to expand college access  and success for students from low-income and minority communities. They provide  services such as application completion, financial counseling, career guidance and  tutoring. The same concept is needed to improve postschool outcomes for students  with disabilities, and the state could use federal funds to seed a program formation. 

3. Launch a dedicated scholarship fund for students with disabilities. These scholarship can be used at Arizona public or private universities, community colleges or technical  schools to help students with disabilities cover the costs of the additional, yet essential,  services and support they need. 

4. Appropriate line-item support for universities and community colleges to improve and  augment support for students with disabilities. The state already provides additional  support for students with disabilities at the K-12 level. Yet, basic services are typically  provided by a Disability Resource Center on campus and costs are assumed by the  college. Additional services provided are typically fee-based (e.g. the SALT Center at the  University of Arizona). 

5. Become the first state to pass the RISE Act. Federal legislation has been introduced to  address some of the obstacles K-12 students with disabilities face matriculating to  college. In particular, the proposed legislation states that the same documentation required to demonstrate a student had a disability in K-12 will suffice in higher  education. But Arizona doesn’t have to wait for the federal government; we can be the  first state to break down these barriers. 

I am extremely grateful to the Arizona Board of Regents for their commitment to  equity. Together we can improve outcomes for our students with disabilities and  simultaneously help Arizona to Achieve60!

Karla Phillips-Krivickas is the Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy for KnowledgeWorks. She has over 20 years of national and state education policy experience in legislative, executive and non-profit leadership roles. As a mother of a child with a disability, Karla is channeling her experience and opportunities to passionately advocate for students with disabilities. She’s on Twitter at @azkarla. 

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