For parents of students currently diagnosed with a learning-disability or who are currently enrolled in elementary, middle, or high school special education classes, please reading the October 18, 2011 USA Today article, “Learning-disabled students get a firmer grip on college” by Mary Beth Marklein. Ms. Marklein highlights some of the challenges confronting students as well as the increased college opportunities available to such students. Nearly nine out of ten of the country’s two-year and four-year colleges enroll students with disabilities. And, while 86 percent of such schools enroll students with learning disabilities, only 26 percent provide sufficient support mechanisms in place. Nearly 11 percent of college students have some sort of disability. Students with attention-deficit or related disorders have increased to 19 percent. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, all colleges are required to provide accommodations to college students. However, unlike elementary, middle, and high schools, which are required by law to identify, evaluate and help students with disabilities, colleges do not have to do anything unless a student asks for help.

Landmark College in Putney, Vermont hosts summer boot camps to assist students in developing strategies to prepare for a successful transition into their first year of college. Students learn how to cope with academics, speak to instructors, and advocate for their rights such as extra time on tests, access to a professor’s notes, or a distraction-free place to study. The program stresses the importance of students learning how to advocate for themselves. Most most students had parents advocating for them throughout their K – 12 schooling and teachers who failed to effectively prepare students for college.

One of the greatest challenges facing such students is the lack of postsecondary preparation that they received in their K – 12 schooling. Many students were not taught note-taking, test preparation, or public speaking skills or how to maximize their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. Few Special Education classes engaged students in the type of critical-thinking discussions they would be expected to engage in at the college level. In essence, the disabilities that they entered school with were oftentimes worsten during their K – 12 schooling. To fully understand what I mean, visit the Special Education classrooms one of your local schools and observe how little expectations teachers have of student performance. Then visit one of the athletic fields or gymnasiums and observe the stark contrast in the expectations that coaches have of their athletes (who also special education students). This is the best example of mainstreaming special education students. If you are truly interested in preparing your children or students for college, adopt a coaches’ mentality–expect more and they will give you more!

What you should do if you have learning challenges and you are planning to attend college:

  • Research scholarships for students with learning challenges
  • Thoroughly research colleges to identify those that offer the best support programs
  • Research colleges that offer special degree programs for students with learning challenges (e.g., Sage and Excelsior colleges in Troy and Albany New York, University of Alabama, University of Arizona)
  • Be honest and upfront, tell colleges what your challenges are and ask how they can support you in being successful