IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are very different, leading to miscommunication between college and high school staff who have studied only the statutes applying to their institution.
In high schools, for example, under IDEA, special education programs may apply primarily to Learning Disabilities. High school students who are in wheelchairs, may fall under a subpart of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and be referred to as their '504' clients. They will develop IEPs (Individual Education Plans) for these students simply because that is the procedure they have available under their IDEA mandated program. However, Section 504 does not require IEPs in high school or at post-secondary institutions.
The misunderstanding comes from the practice of telling families that the '504 Plan' developed at a high school will be binding on a college or university, since they have heard us also talk about Section 504 applying to colleges.
(Other differences may exist for post-secondary institutions which provide housing programs, health services, psychological counseling services, and extensive international programs.)
Privacy: Students in colleges and universities are considered adults, with privacy and confidentiality protections. College staff cannot talk with parents and guardians about a student's academic activities as was typical in K-12.
Eligibility for special education services in high schools is diagnosis driven (i.e., the student must be diagnosed as having one of eleven specified conditions). Eligibility for reasonable accommodations in post-secondary institutions is driven by severity of impact on a major life activity (i.e., a mental or physical impairment which significantly limits a major life activity).
College students must structure and plan their own study time; colleges do not set up study periods or provide for time to do homework in most classes. Professors may differ with their attendance requirement, scheduling assignment due dates and exams. The student must study each professor's syllabus for each class.
Students with disabilities must act to identify their disabilities; must take specific action to request accommodations for their disabilities, if desiring to so request; and must provide verifying documentation such as psycho-educational test results, medical documents and doctor's statements. The documentation must verify the disability, describe the extent of the impairment and provide information which verifies the need for specific accommodation.
Adapted from the Oklahoma City Community College - Office of Disability Services