ERIC Identifier: ED314917
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and
Gifted Children Reston VA.
College Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities. ERIC
High school personnel, as well as students with learning disabilities and
their parents, are often frustrated in searching out a suitable postsecondary
setting that will afford opportunity for success. While there are many
directories of postsecondary college programs (Hartman & Krulwich, 1984),
they often result in more confusion than clarity. Since there is no consistent
pattern of programming for students with learning disabilities at the college
level, selecting an appropriate college is often an overwhelming task.
Since there are many more colleges seeking, or at least admitting, students
with learning disabilities than actually have well-developed programs, it is
imperative that professionals help these students act cautiously during the
selection and application process. Simply finding a "good" program or the one
with the most services is not the solution. A match must be made between the
unique needs of the student and the characteristics of the college and its
learning disabilities program (McGuire & Shaw, 1987).
DEVELOPING AN APPROPRIATE INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM
A critical element of an effective high school program is
determination of which curricula and courses will be taken by students with
learning disabilities. Too often, these students are counseled into a general
studies curriculum that will disqualify them from admission to most 4-year
colleges. In addition, many students with learning disabilities receive course
waivers--often for foreign language or mathematics--which can significantly
limit college options. Course waivers may be necessary and appropriate, but they
should be provided only when based on valid diagnostic data. Furthermore, all
parties should be made aware of the implications of waivers for postsecondary
Although the college experience is often difficult for students with learning
disabilities, pacing of a course of study has proved to be an effective
programming variable (Norlander, Shaw, McGuire, Bloomer, & Czajkowski,
1986). A student who might experience frustration and failure with a full
college course load might be successful when taking only two or three courses.
Likewise, if high school personnel, parents, and students were open to planning
a 4 1/2- or 5-year program, the students would be more likely to leave high
school with the skills, content, knowledge, and positive self-concept necessary
for postsecondary success.
The individualized educational program or transition plan for a student with
learning disabilities should provide for an early determination of postsecondary
goals agreeable to all concerned and specification of the curriculum, courses,
time sequence, and support program appropriate for realization of those
long-term goals. The goals will require continual monitoring and adjustment
throughout the high school program as the student's postsecondary and career
choices become refined.
SPECIAL SKILLS FOR COLLEGE-BOUND STUDENTS
environment is much less structured than most high school settings, requiring a
great deal of responsibility on the part of students to determine what to learn
as well as how and when to learn. Students with specific learning disabilities
are often left confused unless they are specifically instructed in skills such
as evaluating courses, planning long-range study time, and interacting with
faculty. The high school setting does not typically provide the opportunity to
practice such skills. Special educators, in collaboration with content teachers
and counselors, must provide their students with simulated college experiences
that incorporate these skills.
POTENTIAL AREAS OF INTERPERSONAL PROBLEMS
learning disabilities often have serious interpersonal problems in the
dormitories and negative interactions with professors as they seek help or ask
for accommodations. In the college setting, where students are expected to be
independent and function as self-advocates, these problems soon become apparent.
Many students with learning disabilities are unable to perceive intuitively
the verbal and nonverbal cues that identify appropriate behavior in various
social situations. Families and teachers of these students often shelter them
from potentially stressful or threatening social situations and thereby prevent
them from developing the social skills they need to function successfully in the
outside world. The frequent inability of these students to maintain healthy and
cordial relations with their friends and with adults reflects their poor social
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POSTSECONDARY INSTITUTION
school counselors are skilled at helping typical students select colleges.
However, a student with learning disabilities needs more diverse and detailed
information from high school personnel than do typical students. Such a student
needs to investigate admissions procedures carefully. How he or she compares to
the typical entering student in terms of preparation and performance is critical
in preventing a frustrating and possibly short-lived college experience.
A number of academic considerations are also critical for a student with
learning disabilities. The availability of precollege courses, developmental and
remedial courses, and course waiver provisions is essential information. The
size of the institution itself, as well as the size of classes (particularly the
number of large lecture classes) may be especially important to a student who
has any of the social or interpersonal problems noted earlier.
THE LEARNING DISABILITIES PROGRAM
Once a student's personal
strengths and weaknesses have been evaluated and the elements of appropriate
postsecondary institutions have been considered, it is time to examine specific
support services. A student with specific disabilities in mathematics might not
require support services if the postsecondary institutions of choice do not
require coursework in this field. On the other hand, a student who has achieved
in modified high school classes without support services might require extensive
assistance in a competitive academic university program. The same student might
continue to manage independently in an open-enrollment, 2-year college with a
vocational-technical focus. Secondary personnel must help each student analyze
his or her specific needs and match them with the availability and quality of
support services available.
MAKING THE FINAL SELECTION
Once the general characteristics
of appropriate settings have been determined, the list of serious choices should
narrow to five or so good candidates. The schools must then be contacted,
interviews arranged, and family visits planned. Campus tours and the opportunity
to sit in on classes must be given particular attention, since it is extremely
important for a student who has a learning disability to personally judge the
level of difficulty of the instruction, observe the interaction of the students,
and gain for himself or herself a sense of the relationship between the students
and the faculty.
The admissions interview may not answer all the questions regarding programs
for students with learning disabilities. If it does not, the student and parents
must seek out and meet with a member of the learning disabilities program staff.
A list of questions based on family concerns and perhaps stimulated by a review
of college directories and guides or discussions with high school guidance
personnel should be prepared prior to the visit. Questions might include the
What type of support is available for students with learning disabilities?
Is the program monitored by a full-time professional staff?
Has the program been evaluated, and if so, by whom?
Are there any concerns for the program's future?
Who counsels students with learning disabilities during registration,
orientation, and course selection?
How does the school propose to help with the specific disability?
Which courses provide tutoring?
What kind of tutoring is available, and who does it--peers or staff?
Is tutoring automatic, or must the student request assistance?
How well do faculty members accept students with learning disabilities?
May students with learning disabilities take a lighter load?
Are courses in study skills or writing skills offered?
Have counselors who work with students with learning disabilities received
How do students on campus spend their free time?
May students with learning disabilities take more time to graduate?
Whom can parents contact if they have concerns during the academic year?
Berger, S. (1989). College planning for gifted
students. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Hartman, R. C., & Krulwich, M. T. (1984). Learning disabled adults in
postsecondary education. Washington, DC: Higher Education and the Handicapped
McGuire, J. M., & Shaw, S. F. (1987). A decision-making process for the
college-bound learning disabled student: Matching learner, institution, and
support program. Learning Disability Quarterly, 10(2), 106-111.
Norlander, K. A., Shaw, S. F., McGuire, J. M., Bloomer, R. H., &
Czajkowski, A. (1986, October). Diagnosis and program selection for learning
disabled college students. Paper presented at the Eighth International
Conference on Learning Disabilities, Kansas City, MO.
SELECTED COLLEGE GUIDES
How to choose a college: Guide for the student with a disability. (ND).
Washington, DC: The American Council on Education, HEATH Resource Center, One
Dupont Circle, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20036.
Lisiscio, M. A. (1986). A guide to colleges for learning disabled students
(rev. ed.) Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
Mangrum II, C. T., & Strichart, S. S. (1988). Peterson's guide to
colleges with programs for learning disabled students (2nd ed.). Princeton, NJ:
Prihoda, J., Bieber, T., Kay, C., Kerkstra, P., & Ratcliff, J. (1988).
Community colleges and students with disabilities. AACJC Publications, 80 South
Early Street, Alexandria, VA 22304.
Thomas, C. H., & Thomas, J. L. (1986). Directory of college facilities
and services for the disabled. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.
This digest was developed from Shaw, S. F., Byron, J., Norlander, K. A.,
McGuire, J. M., & Anderson, P. (1987, April). Preparing learning disabled
high school students for postsecondary education. Paper presented at the 65th
Annual Convention of The Council for Exceptional Children, Chicago, IL, ED 285