Let’s Look at LD College Success Rates

It’s college landing season. Social media is flooded with images of exuberant students unpacking their parents’ minivan. As one, we are caught up in energy and excitement about the future.

Filled with pride at the accomplishments of recent high school graduates, we can’t help but wonder about their next steps. We are especially curious about the future of those students who learn differently. What does it hold for them?

  • One in five children in the U.S. has learning and attention issues such as dyslexia and ADHD[1]
  • According to the latest data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics of undergraduate students self-reporting a disability, 11% reported having a learning disability[2]
  • Only 34% of these students have completed a four-year degree eight years after their high school graduation.[3]

Why? Many of these students are intellectually capable of working alongside and even in competition with their peers. Why then are college success rates for LD students lower? Like the students themselves, the answer is complicated. But the following reasons standout among many:

Overwhelm. New college students are expected to know how to manage within the context of their new environment. Neurotypical students find this difficult, LD students, even more so. Without the comfort of a familiar routine, many new students retreat to asocial or destructive behaviors. This is our area of expertise. Through student-centered purpose-driven inquiry, we begin to instill processing skills and stress reduction strategies. The relationship with Focus Collegiate College Life Coordinators helps students create and stick with new routines.  

Self-advocacy. All students must self-advocate much, much more in college than they did in high school. While the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that reasonable accommodations be made available to college students who have documented learning disabilities, the students themselves are required to self-identify, provide that documentation, and request needed accommodations. This was not the case in secondary education, where students were provided for without their having to ask. Focus Collegiate Student Skills Coaches provide daily direct individualize support for organizational development, self-regulation, and self-advocacy.

Unrealistic Expectations. High school graduation is a huge milestone that many graduates and their parents mistakenly believe prepares them adequately for college. It does not. Adopting such a we-made-it-this-far mentality undermines the potential for a successful transition to college and independent living. Focus Collegiate support services are a bridge between these expectations and the realities of college.

Ignorance of Student Services. 45% of parents whose children seek college accommodations say it is difficult to find information about disability services in college. Focus Collegiate changes the odds by helping students and their families navigate their new college environment and take advantage of all available supports.

Support Disparity. Most college disability support services offer 80% less support than high schools. This is part of the difference between IDEA and Section 504. IDEA, (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is an educational benefit law requiring that student’s unique needs be met and must result in educational benefit. IDEA requires secondary schools to create Individualized Education Plans. (IEPs do not exist in the post-secondary setting.) Section 504, which prohibits discrimination based upon disability, requires that the needs of students with disabilities be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met, but does not require academic improvement. All IDEA students are covered by Section 504, whereas not all Section 504 students are protected under IDEA. This disparity comes as a shock to students and their parents as they make plans for support eligibility in college.

The discrepancy between college disability service offerings and what LD students can actually take advantage of must be overcome almost entirely by the student. And yet learning differences such as ADHD, ADD and executive function deficits impair the very goal-directed behaviors required to secure appropriate services and accommodations. This catch-22 is exacerbated by a new student’s lack of routine, unfamiliarity with the new environment, and lagging social and self-advocacy skills.

[1] https://www.ncld.org/the-state-of-learning-disabilities-understanding-the-1-in-5

[2] https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=60

[3] https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/college-planning-with-learning-disabilities/

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Focus Collegiate provides innovative hands-on coaching for college students with learning differences, on campus and beyond.

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