Keys to Accessing Postsecondary Education: Community College System of New Hampshire

Often many questions arise about the key differences between college Disabilities Services and high school special education. These differences are substantial (see chart below).

Colleges do not provide special education. The Community College System of NH operates under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which offer access to programs. Students with disabilities have equal opportunity to address the same course objectives, health, character and technical standards and conduct code as other students. Course requirements are not modified at the college level. Students need to be qualified or able to do college level work.

Programs and courses are described in the catalogs for each campus and at These courses presume that students taking them have completed high school or GED programs and have completed the entry and academic requirements listed for the specific major.

In addition, some of the expectations in every course include competencies in reading, mathematics, writing, computer literacy and study skills. Students are expected to be able to do independent academic work, one to three hours of homework per class hour, use critical thinking skills and set his/her own schedule. Students are expected to maintain acceptable academic progress of 2.0 or better grade point average and comply with the college conduct code.

Of course, accommodations and academic supports are available to eligible students. Because it is essential to consider the level of skills and readiness individuals may have for courses, we recommend thorough advising about expectations for these courses and programs. We recommend that each individual reflect upon his/her own interest areas, specific talents and learning styles. We think it is important to consider these areas in concert with the pursuit of career and employment goals. The document Investing In Your Success: a Booklet for Entering Students with Disabilities and Their Families (available at is recommended as a good source of information about college questions, alternatives for skill-building and community participation.

For students who wish to take a course as a nonmatriculated student, the same prerequisites, requirements, policies and rules apply. We do recommend that students who are likely to use academic support services take placement testing for advising purposes. This testing may cover areas such as a writing sample, math assessment, learning and study strategies inventory, computer literacy check and reading comprehension check. This information helps us advise students as to the level of their skills, how ready they are to take courses and what courses might be the most suitable.

Some students want to audit college course. Auditing can be described as an opportunity to “learn more about the challenges of college work, explore a discipline of interest, refresh prior learning or supplement existing knowledge.” Auditing students would participate in lectures, seminars, and/or labs but not complete graded assignments. Some restrictions apply, and not all courses can be taken in an audit format.

Each CCSNH campus sponsors a Business Training Center which offers various non- credit workshops for skill development in day and/or evening formats. Certificate programs such as the Computer Proficiency Certificate may be of interest. Recently a noncredit certificate in hospitality was created at the Stratham and Manchester campuses.

In general, from our years of experience, we have found that students who have not had a background of academics in high school may not be prepared for the rigors of college work. Students who have had significant modification of curriculum and/or aides and assistants in high school classes may be surprised at the level of independent work required in college classes. Also the ability level and critical thinking skills necessary for college level courses may be a sizeable leap for some students to manage. We have observed that for some students the experience can become quite discouraging and stressful.

Thus it can be important to also consider various options for gaining necessary, transferable skills in preparation for participation in academic and/or career programs. Besides occupational goals, learning can be viewed in the context of the life challenges each individual faces, such as the fundamental and vital themes: health and wellness, safety, communication skills, citizenship, household management, interpersonal relations, environment and science, art and aesthetics, leisure time, money management, transportation and travel. Additionally, it can be helpful for individuals to be aware of various alternatives in his/her own areas of personal talent and interest. Our advising recommends consideration of the whole person and reflects a strong value for lifelong learning.

High School


Special Education

Disabilities Services

IDEA & Section 504

American with Disabilities Act
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
Students are given equal opportunity to pursue programs.

IEP or 504 Plan

Reasonable Accommodation Plan

Services are provided

Services must be requested.

Laws protect only those students who are deemed “otherwise qualified.”

Curriculum can be modified

Students need to meet course objectives. There
are NO course modifications

Specialists inform teacher of
students’ needs through an IEP

Students are responsible for informing their
professors of their needs using their reasonable accommodation plan

Students disclose a disability through the Coordinator of Disabilities Services.

Testing is provided

Students need to provide documentation. If re-evaluation is necessary, it is the student’s responsibility to arrange and pay for it

Students’ strengths & challenges are determined by the specialists

Students are expected to develop self-advocacy skills.

Beverly W. Boggess, Ph.D. enjoys working as Coordinator of Disabilities Services at NHTI- Concord’s Community College, where she earned the 2012 Chancellor’s Award for Service Excellence. She has a background in special education, rehabilitation, supervision, teacher education and elementary education. She volunteers with the NH Learning Disabilities Association and currently serves as President.

Categories: Stepping Stones NH