Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities
An increasing number of students with learning disabilities (LDs) are enrolling in two-year and four-year colleges. During the 1990's, the percentage of full-time freshmen who reported having a disability has more than tripled. The most common category of disability reported by students is learning disabilities. Other disabilities include speech and language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbances, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, and autism.
Pursuing a college education has always been a dream of many high school students. Now this dream is also attainable by many students with learning disabilities. But with this increase in enrollment come many challenges and special issues. These include: how best to transition to the rigors of college, the differences in services offered in high school and college, the importance of self-advocacy, documentation of a learning disability, the personal and academic skills necessary to succeed in college, what accommodations can and should be requested, the role of disability support services, and the use of assistive technology, to name a few. These concerns necessitate that students with learning disabilities learn as much as they can about their disability as well as the resources and services at colleges and universities they are considering. Only then can they make the determination about which colleges can best suit their needs. Just as students with learning disabilities are different, so are the colleges that serve them.
The transition from high school to college for students with LDs can be confusing. There are two main differences between high school and college. One is the level of services offered at the college level. The second is that there are significant changes in the legal rights of students, and the burden of responsibility shifts to students.
In high school, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) states that education services are required for students who are not making satisfactory academic progress due to a disability. These services must be free and the school must develop an individualized education program (IEP) for each student. Many high school students who do not require intensive special education services but who still need accommodations are on a section 504 plan in high school.
At the post-secondary level, colleges provide services based on two civil rights mandates: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Both statutes prohibit discrimination due to a disability and require colleges to ensure equal access to otherwise qualified students with disabilities. Equal access includes providing academic adjustments (accommodations) and auxiliary aids (such as assistive technology). Colleges can go beyond this basic level of services and offer a disability program, but they are allowed to charge a fee for these services. Additionally, it is the student's responsibility to self-identify to the college and provide appropriate documentation of his/her disability. If this does not occur, the college does not need to provide accommodations. As a result, any special education services included in a student's IEP or 504 plan end when the student graduates from high school.
Colleges are not required to lower admissions criteria or course content because of a person's disability. However, some colleges may have a parallel admission process for applicants with LD. In that case, the applicant must submit documentation of their disability. It is important for you to remember that disclosure of a disability during the admissions process is voluntary. Disclosure of a disability is only required once a student is accepted and is seeking accommodations from the college.
Documenting Your LD and Requesting Accomodations
Students should first understand their own learning disability and what strategies work best for them, and then determine what accommodations they should consider to best suit their needs. A clear and current documentation (no more than two years old) of the student's disabilities is vital when requesting accommodations. Generally, documentation should include a clear statement of the diagnosis, the basis for the diagnosis, and the current impact of the disability. Different colleges will have different requirements, so determine these in advance. Accommodations can include: tutoring, taped classroom lectures, alternative test arrangements, readers and note takers, taped textbooks, basic skills remediation, diagnostic testing, priority registration and advocates, among others. Changes in services occur regularly, so check with the schools in which you are interested to see if special services are offered.
College Entrance Exam Accomodations
Students can receive accommodations for standardized testing if diagnosed with a disability. For more information, see the following resources:
Types of Support Programs
Many colleges offer support programs for LD students. Colleges with minimal support programs provide relatively little in the way of extra services but enough to meet federal regulations, such as offering accommodations. Moderate support colleges may have a specially designated office or person on campus to assist LD students, as well as additional services. Frequently, professors will modify course requirements to meet the needs of LD students. The focus of these programs is to help LD students adjust to college, but students are expected to know when and how to ask for help. A comprehensive program has a full-time program coordinator who administers services beyond mere accommodations. The type of comprehensive program differs from school to school, but they generally include individualized contacts for students, such as help in learning skills and strategies, tutoring, LD specialists, special testing arrangements, and support groups. These programs often have trained disability specialists and adaptive technology. The focus is to adapt school programs to suit the needs of LD students, rather than helping them adapt to existing programs.
It is important for LD students to be aware of the nature of their disability and to be able to discuss their limitations and explain to administrators and professors what they need to succeed. In high school, parents and teachers may have represented the LD student's best interests. In college, that responsibility shifts to the student. Learning to become your own advocate is important in achieving independence.
Choosing a College
Students with LDs should gather information about schools that have programs designed for them. They should investigate what accommodations are offered and whether the college has a minimal, moderate, or comprehensive program. Students should visit schools in which they are interested, gauge the general feel of the campus, and then consider the disability-related services offered. A match must be made between the unique needs of the student and the characteristics of the college and its LD program. Also remember that college is much less structured than high school. LD students must be responsible for how and when they learn and knowing what support services they need to succeed. Look for colleges with pre-college courses, developmental and remedial courses, course waiver provisions, and counseling during registration and course selection, if appropriate.
Tips for Students with LDs:
- Document your disability with letters from your physician(s), therapist, case manager, school psychologist, and other service providers.
- Get letters of support from teachers, family friends, and service providers that detail how you have learned to work despite your disability.
- Learn the federal laws that apply to students with disabilities.
- Research support groups for peer information and advocacy.
- Visit several campuses. Set up a meeting with the director of special services. Ask to talk with students who have similar disabilities to hear about their experiences on campus. Explore whether the programs, policies, procedures, and facilities meet your specific situation.
- Determine whether or not to disclose your disability and, if you choose to disclose, the best point in the admissions process to do so.
- Look into the services available, the pace of campus life, and the colleges expectations for students with disabilities.
- Ask about orientation programs, including bridge programs and other specialized introductions for or about students with disabilities.
- Ask about flexible, individualized study plans.
The following is a list of online resources for LD students:
- Heath Resource Center → This is an online clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities sponsored by George Washington University. It has extensive information on LD support services, accessing colleges and universities, and financial aid for LD students. The site contains a link for FAQ as well as an extensive list of external links, including information on learning disabilities, multiple disabilities, postsecondary education resources, and transition from high school resources.
- LD On Line → This site contains information geared for educators, parents and "kids." The section entitled "LD in Depth" offers hundreds of articles and resources for educators and parents organized by topics.
- Colleges with Programs for Learning Disabled Students → This site offers a list of schools with comprehensive LD programs. When you click on a school you are directed to the LD page of the school's website.
- The Advocacy Institute → This site offers information about college opportunities for LD students
- The National Center for Learning Disabilities → Originally founded in 1977, is an online resource for parents, educators, and individuals with LD. It provides information, promotes research, and advocates for policies to protect and strengthen educational opportunities for the 15 million people with LD. Of particular importance is the section called "Transition to College," which has useful tips, research reports, and websites about this important time.
- An example of a comprehensive LD program
- Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
- Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)
- Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders (CHADD)
- International Dyslexia Association
- ETS Documentation Polices for Testing Accommodation
- Advocacy and legal issues site
- The K & W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder (9th ed.) by Kravets and Wax
- Peterson's Colleges for Students with LD or ADD
- Going to College: Expanding Opportunities for People with Disabilities by Getzel and Wehman
- Survival Guide For College Students with ADHD or LD (2nd ed.) by Kathleen G. Nadeau
- College and Career Success for Students with Learning Disabilities by Roslyn Dolber
Colleges and Universities for Students with Learning Disabilities
Here is a description of some of the colleges and universities which offer programs for students with learning disabilities:Back to Menu
Bard College, a nontraditional liberal arts institution in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York with 1,500 undergraduates, offers both a small, nurturing environment and an active support system for students with learning disabilities. The Bard Academic Resources Center houses the Academic Support Specialist. Students with learning disabilities, who are requesting accommodations, can meet with the Academic Support Specialist at the beginning of each semester and complete the forms necessary to document their disability. The specialist then provides the students with letters detailing the recommended accommodations. Students are responsible for meeting with their professors to review the content of these letters and arrange for in-class accommodations. The Academic Support Specialist also meets with students with learning disabilities periodically throughout the semester to assess the efficacy of the accommodations. Typical reasonable accommodations offered include exam modifications, alternate methods of completing assignments, auxiliary aids and services, coaching, and technical support (including study skills training, time management, organizational skills training, and education about alternative learning methods). Tutoring is available in every subject, and there is extensive assistance with writing assignments. The college also has an established grievance policy, allowing students with learning disabilities to file a written complaint. The Academic Support Specialist will investigate any complaints and issue a report within 30 days. Students are also protected against retaliation in any form for complaints submitted.Back to Menu
Beacon College is a small liberal arts college founded by a group of parents concerned about higher education opportunities for students with learning disabilities. Beacon College offers AA and BA degrees exclusively for students with learning disabilities. Their nationally recognized teaching techniques provide every opportunity for LD students to achieve their potential and acquire an academic degree. The college embraces the student with learning disabilities by providing educational opportunities that acknowledge individual learning differences. Beacon College is located in Leesburg, Florida, approximately 50 miles northwest of Orlando, and serves high school graduates, students that have earned their GED, and college transfer students with documented learning disabilities who have proven academic potential.
At Beacon College, students learn strategies for lifelong learning that will help them find success in a world without accommodations. The average class size at Beacon is 12 students, and classes are kept very small to ensure that students get as much individualized attention from instructors as they need. Beacon College instructors, all of whom have masters or doctorates in their academic disciplines, are dedicated to educational teaching techniques that enhance the learning process. Academic mentors are professionals with degrees or training in learning disabilities who work with students individually to focus on their individual learning style while incorporating the tools necessary to become self-sufficient and successful learners. Students gain valuable workplace experience from social workers, business leaders, teachers, and other professionals through Beacon College's Field Placement Program. Students also learn to use the latest technologies.Back to Menu
Clark University, with nearly 2,000 undergraduates, is located in Worchester, MA and is best known for its psychology and geography departments. Although Clark is listed in The Fiske Guide to Colleges as a university offering strong support for students with learning disabilities, it also sets high academic standards. As the university states, "Clark is committed to providing equal access to otherwise qualified students with disabilities who are able to effectively function in a rigorous campus-based liberal arts environment." The coordinator of disability services works with students to coordinate academic accommodations and services. However, students should be aware that there is no specialized program or learning center for students with disabilities. Clark seems a good choice for students with learning disabilities who are also high functioning. If students wish to disclose a learning disability, they must provide the necessary documentation before the beginning of the first semester, and requests for accommodations must be made each semester thereafter. Students can meet with the coordinator of disability services and students must consent to allow the coordinator to send notes of accommodation to the faculty. Students are encouraged to follow up with faculty and discuss their required accommodations. Students may request meetings with the coordinator of disability services as often as once a week. These meetings focus on problem solving, organizational and time management skills, connecting to available resources on campus, self-advocacy skills, procuring tests in alternate formats, and assistance in implementing accommodations. Both the writing center and math tutoring are available to all students. Students with learning disabilities must enroll in all of Clark's required courses, including math and foreign language, but students can take some courses pass/fail. Students are encouraged to self-identity as early as possible and schedule a summer meeting or telephone conference to discuss their disability. Clark also has an early orientation program for students with learning disabilities.Back to Menu
Curry College is a small (2,000 undergraduates) liberal arts college located in Milton, MA on a beautiful 137 acre all enclosed campus. Curry offers 20 different academic majors and over 52 different minors and concentrations. Curry has doubled its numbers in the past ten years, adding four new residence halls, a new academic building, and a sports field complex, and it will open a brand new student center in the fall of 2009. The campus is only seven miles from downtown Boston and provides its student's transportation to the nearest T station. In 1970, Curry was the first college to start a program at the college level for students with learning disabilities. Only about 25% of the 2,000 undergraduate students are in the LD program. Besides the Program for Advancement of Learning (PAL) program, all students at Curry can find free tutoring in the Essential Skills Center in any subject they need help with. PAL is designed for students who have a primary diagnosis of a language-based learning disability and/or AD/HD and who have at least average to superior intellectual ability. Space is limited; therefore, each application is evaluated carefully to identify students whose needs best match the nature of support offered in PAL. All applicants must submit diagnostic materials that describe and support the above PAL admissions criteria, along with a PAL Supplementary Application. Diagnostic testing must be administered within three years of application and include: Cognitive testing - Results from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-III), the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV), or other comprehensive cognitive tests, such as the Woodcock-Johnson Test of Cognitive Ability. Test results must be accompanied by a narrative report and subtest scores. Additionally, students need to submit an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or its equivalent, if available. Curry College strongly recommends students participate in an interview, and one may be required in some cases. Students meet regularly (two to three times per week) with a PAL instructor - a learning specialist who is also a Curry College faculty member -in a combination of individual and small group sessions. Students are helped to understand their learning styles and, based on that understanding, to develop and implement strategies in areas such as reading, writing, note-taking, time management, organization, and test-taking. The Summer PAL program is a program for students that have been accepted to Curry and the PAL program and is a three week program offered twice in the summer. It is highly recommended for students to attend one of these sessions. The three week session gives these students a great advantage in getting ready for the first day of class in September. They get to know the campus, meet other PAL students and faculty, start learning about themselves and how they learn, participate in a high and low ropes course with the group, and best of all, they get three college credits for the experience.Back to Menu
Fairleigh Dickinson University
Fairleigh Dickinson University has two campuses. The College at Florham is located in Madison, NJ and the Metropolitan Campus is located in Teaneck, NJ. Florham is a residential campus with approximately 2,600 undergraduate students, while the Metropolitan campus is a commuter school with 3,400 students. Students in need of disability services can access them at both campuses. Both campuses have a Regional Center for College Students with Learning Disabilities. Students apply directly to the program and are accepted jointly by the college. The program is free but there is a fee to participate in the summer program at the Florham campus.
A key component of the program is intensive advisement and counseling as well as academic support. Its goal is to help students develop the confidence to be successful college students and become independent learners. Tutoring incorporates a variety of teaching techniques, and support sessions are small, individualized, and flexible.Back to Menu
The Landmark College admissions team recruits and enrolls students with documented learning disabilities and AD/HD who are bright, capable, and motivated. These students have the intelligence and ability to earn a college degree, but may not have the educational skills to match. Landmark evaluates applicants on many factors, including cognitive ability, extra-curricular involvement, and leadership skills. Although high school grades and GPAs are not the best predictor of success at Landmark College, they are factors in the decision-making process. Landmark also looks at SAT or ACT scores. Scores are used to help, not hurt, your chances of admission. Landmark wants students who have the dedication to succeed in school and in the workforce. Landmark offers AA programs and holds the conviction that for students to transfer effectively to a four-year program, they need to develop self-understanding, self-advocacy, and the ability to use support resources effectively. However, Landmark College's mission is to define a model for effective education for individuals with learning differences, and their support services are intended to uphold this goal.
The resources available to students include: support offices focused on self-understanding and academic planning, several centers for academic support that provide supplemental instruction in various skill areas, coaching services, and a coursework-support center that provides assistance with setting immediate goals and getting work done.Back to Menu
Lynn University is a small (just under 2,000 undergraduates) liberal arts institution located on a beautifully landscaped 123-acre campus in Boca Raton, Florida. The campus is only three miles from the Atlantic Ocean and within convenient driving distance to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, and Orlando. Lynn's mission is to provide the education, support, and environment that helps enable individual students to realize their true potential and prepare for success in the real world. At the core of every major program is a liberal arts education, as well as a commitment to nurture and support every student's journey of self-discovery. Lynn students must complete a required international study experience as part of their major program, participating in a faculty-led study tour or spending a semester abroad at American College Dublin (Ireland).
Lynn has a very strong Comprehensive Support Program that has been a hallmark of Lynn since 1991. This program was formerly known as The Advancement Program or TAP, and is both nationally and internationally recognized. The program includes: unlimited tutoring sessions, extended time for exams, a distraction-reduced testing center, and specialized sections designed for non-traditional learners. The staff also provides services and workshops on topics such as anxiety and testing. To apply for this program, students must provide the following information: a transcript, SAT/ACT scores, a personal statement, at least one recommendation from a guidance counselor or teacher, and a current psycho-educational evaluation like the WISC or WAIS test.Back to Menu
Located in the bucolic suburban town of Purchase, NY, Manhattanville College is known for its small classes and accessible professors. With a student body of about 2,000 students, there is a familial feel. Manhattanville has a self-directed/decentralized program for students with learning differences.
The Higher Education Learning Program (HELP) provides support for students with disabilities in order to help them navigate the rigors of college. Students are admitted to the college first and then apply to the HELP program. The program provides one-on-one tutoring in learning strategies that are directly related to course work. Learning disability specialists provide individualized instruction based on the specific needs of the students enrolled in the program.Back to Menu
Marist is a midsized (just under 5,000 students) residential campus located in Poughkeepsie, NY. The college is known for its small classes, great computer facilities, library, and happy students. The college prides itself on the nurturing environment it provides to all its students. Marist has a separate structured program for students with learning differences.
Learning disability services are provided through Marist's Office of Special Services. Students apply to the college and submit a supplementary application for the disability support program. Admission to the support program is competitive, so students are urged to apply early. After an application is reviewed and the student is deemed appropriate for the program, he or she is invited for a mandatory interview. Once accepted, students can remain in the program for as long as they want.Back to Menu
Mitchell College is a small, coeducational, private, residential institution offering associate and bachelor degree programs in the liberal arts and professional areas. The college is dedicated to providing a challenging education in a caring and cooperative environment for all students, including those with untapped potential and those with diagnosed learning disabilities. Mitchell College has 650 full-time undergraduates. In addition, another 150 students take classes part-time. The average class size is 12-18 students. Small class sizes ensure that students receive the maximum amount of academic support. All classes are taught by either full-time or part-time professors, and the student to faculty ratio is 12:1.
The Learning Resource Center (LRC) at Mitchell helps students develop individualized programs of support focusing on their unique learning strengths and challenges, increasing their repertoire of learning strategies and study skills, fostering development of metacognitive skills, and strengthening self confidence, independence and self-sufficiency.
For 25 years, Mitchell College had been a nationally recognized leader in providing academic support for students with diagnosed learning disabilities and those with untapped potential. Focusing on student asset development rather than deficit management, the college offers a variety of distinctive support programs and services geared to different learning styles. Mitchell has a nationally recognized LD Program with three graduate levels of support. These levels are designed for students who need intensive academic support, usually during their first and second year at Mitchell College, in order to become independent learners. Also available are universal supports such as professional content tutoring, learning and writing specialists, academic coaching for empowerment, the A.C.E. program for AD/HD, the S.T.A.R.S. program (Students Taking Academic Responsibility Seriously), adaptive computer technology, faculty trained in all different learning styles, the advising team approach, and degree options of both two and four-year degrees. Mitchell College also offers the Summer Transition Enrichment Program or S.T.E.P., a four-week optional intensive summer program for incoming freshmen that helps enables students to transition into their fall studies by strengthening their study skills, improving basic academic skills, identifying their personal learning style, and earning college credits.Back to Menu
Southern Vermont College
Southern Vermont College (SVC) is a small liberal arts college with 450 students located in Bennington, Vermont. SVC says it offers a "personalized education at a career-enhancing liberal arts college." The mission of SVC is to serve all academically qualified students. The college offers both bachelors and associates degrees. According to SVU, "The college offers a strong program of support for students who provide documentation of their learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder, vision/hearing impairment, and other disabilities." The Learning Differences Support Program serves about 70 students a year and, unlike many other colleges, there is no additional fee for these services.
Disability services include regularly scheduled tutorial sessions, content-area academic support, exploration of individual learning styles, study strategies, note taking methods, organizational and time management skills, exam accommodations, access to tests on tape, and pre-academic course advising. A Learning Profile is developed for each student to help him or her become a more active, independent learner by better understanding individual learning styles. The Learning Profile also identifies strategies to facilitate learning. Students must provide documentation of their learning disability, and an interview with program staff is strongly recommended. Although the Admissions Office does not consider information about a student's learning disabilities, it recommends students contact the director of the Learning Differences Program to make sure SVC can meet their needs.Back to Menu
Syracuse University ("SU"), located in Syracuse, New York, hosts over 10,000 undergraduates. All of SU's disability services are coordinated through the Office of Disability Serves. Applicants to SU are welcome to discuss their concerns about the impact of their disability on admissions with the admissions committee. After acceptance, SU encourages students to disclose their disability as soon as possible and provide the required documentation. Each student is then assigned to a disability services counselor who reviews the documentation, meets with the student, and through an interactive process, determines what services and accommodations the student needs. In addition to a Director, Syracuse has a Coordinator of Exam Administration and Note Taking Services and a Coordinator of Alternative Format for alternative text books.
Services for students with disabilities include academic modifications, exam accommodations, note taking services, alternative format of printed materials, interpretive services/captioning, assistive technology, and counseling and advocacy. Academic support includes tutoring, writing support, math clinics, and studying, organizing, and time management instruction. Orientation programs for students with learning disabilities are offered through the Office of Orientation and Transition Services. There is an advocacy group on campus called The Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee which helps create and support a positive climate towards disabilities on campus. Syracuse also offers a summer program called Summer Start to help ease the transition to college. Overall, Syracuse offers a large number of resources for students and an extensive framework of administrators responsible for overseeing services to students with learning disabilities.Back to Menu
University of Arizona
The University of Arizona is a large (28,000+ students) public university located in Tucson, AZ. Students with learning differences have several options for accessing support services. The University of Arizona has a separate structured program as well as a self-directed program.
Comprehensive services are available through the Strategic Alternative Learning Program (SALT). Students apply directly to the SALT program and must provide three essays, complete an application, sit for an interview, and provide disability documentation. Students must be academically appropriate for the U of A before they can apply to the SALT program. Students who require less restrictive disability services can apply to the Disability Resource Center instead of the SALT program.
The University of Arizona is an inclusive school. It views disabled individuals as an aspect of diversity. "We provide individual support, including academic adjustments and reasonable accommodations, while striving to create environments that provide meaningful access to all individuals who use the University and its resources." (www.arizona.edu Disability Resources Brochure).Back to Menu
University of Colorado at Boulder
With an undergraduate enrollment of over 26,000 students, the University of Colorado at Boulder might seem large for a student with learning disabilities. But one of Boulder's missions is to promote an accessible and culturally sensitive campus through outreach programs and by building partnerships within the university community and beyond. Support services use an individualized approach and encourage students to build self-awareness, learn self-advocacy, become more independent, create a network of resources, and meet all academic requirements. A Disability Services Brochure is available online and details the services offered at Boulder.
Students with learning disabilities must submit documentation of their disability and schedule an intake appointment to review the documentation, which can be scheduled during the summer before arrival. Disability Services will issue a letter explaining the accommodations, which the student can then present to faculty. Accommodations for testing and communication (such as interpreting, realtime captioning, assistive listening devices, and note taking) are available. Support services, which are free to the student, include help from a disability specialist to develop learning strategies, academic advising assistance, career counseling, and assistive technology services. Students with learning disabilities must meet all academic requirements, including foreign language and math courses. However, Boulder has a Modified Foreign Language Program and many options for successfully meeting the math requirements. There is a summer information session available for students with learning disabilities, where questions and concerns can be addressed, and a welcome session in late August where students can become familiar with Boulder's resources. Disability Services also believes students with learning disabilities should assume leadership positions on campus and encourages students to join various presentations, orientations, and conferences which serve as outreach programs, or to join the Disability Services advisory board.