Learning Differences & Higher Education

Effective self-advocacy, as well as self-determination, results in success for college students with unique learning profiles.

From the National Center for Learning Disabilities

  • Undergraduates who disclose their learning profile often have trouble accessing the kinds of services and supports they received in high school.
  • Colleges vary greatly in their eligibility determinations in relation to learning differences and are often far more restrictive than high schools in granting accommodations.
  • In an unpublished survey, 45% of parents whose children were seeking college accommodations said it was difficult to find information about accessibility services in college.
  • Studies of disclosure rates indicate there are many reasons why students who were identified in high school don’t tell their college they have a learning difference [including] Not knowing what kinds of services are available in college or how to access them. Also, underestimating how important accommodations are to their academic success.

Our study found that most students with learning differences did not self-identify when they got to college. The few who disclosed were just the tip of the iceberg.

Lynn Newman, Ed.D., Senior education researcher at SRI International

Learning Differences

Approximately 1 in 5 people with learning differences has less than a high school diploma, compared with 1 in 10 people without learning differences. 

Young adults with learning differences are less likely to be living independently than their same-age peers in the general population

Among people aged 25 and older, only 16% of people with learning differences complete at least a bachelor’s degree, whereas 35% of the general population completes at least a bachelor’s degree.

Applying for accommodations can be a cumbersome process, and students with learning differences who don’t receive support early face an increased risk of not graduating.

National Center for Learning Disabilities

College Life

Students who complete higher levels of education are more likely to be employed than those with less education. But only about a third of the students with learning differences who enroll in a four-year college or university graduate within eight years.

Plus, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law that provides students with IEPs, no longer applies to students once they graduate from high school.

From “First-Year College Experience” survey by the JED Foundation

  • 50% of college students reported feeling stressed most or all of the time and 36% did not feel as if they were in control of managing the stress of day-to-day college life.
  • More than half of students (51%) found it difficult at times to get emotional support at college when they needed it, and more than 1 in 10 students (11%) say they did not turn to anyone for support when needed.

When students struggle academically or socially, research indicates that having a supportive parent, mentor or other caring adult is one of the strongest protective factors that help them remain resilient.

National Center for Learning Disabilities