A postsecondary model for students with learning disabilities
Monday, September 21, 2015
When students consider postsecondary education, they wonder anxiously if they will ever be able to persist to graduation. The questions that go through mind of the typical college-bound student often include: Should I even go to college? If I go to college, will I ever graduate? Are there support programs that can assist me?
In addition to these questions, students with learning disabilities have many others, including whether they will have IEPs in college or if there are people and assistive technologies that will support their learning differences. In fact, many students begin their college journeys in community colleges in order to explore their many questions without incurring the expense of a four-year college.
There are, however, traditional institutions that provide tutoring and coaching models that have proven to be successful in both retention and graduation rates of students with learning disabilities. Under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, most colleges and universities must provide academic accommodations for students, but do students perform better with support beyond accommodations?
We have found that supporting students with learning disabilities in a holistic manner greatly improves their retention and graduation rates. We first explain to students that they do not have IEPs in college, but are now under ADA and will receive a 504 plan. Students who need support beyond their regular accommodations may choose to enroll in a program of tutoring and coaching, which is designed to assist students both academically and personally.
This model includes individual tutoring with a professional staff member, coaching in time management, testing strategies and study skills, and tracking of grades and performance in course work. Self-advocacy is greatly encouraged, as it is a major component of academic and personal confidence.
What makes this particular model so successful? Students with learning disabilities have displayed high retention rates, high cumulative GPAs and high graduation rates in our model. What has made a great difference to students surveyed was not only the professional tutoring and coaching, but also the strong bonds students form with their Academic Development Specialist (ADS).
Students are brought into a nurturing environment, where "someone really cares" about their success and well-being. The biweekly sessions are student-oriented and student-driven, beginning with initial questions about the life of the student, adjustment issues and life concerns that may be interfering with performance.
The ADS then begins assisting the students with the "work" they have brought in. The ADS is a master of all trades, proficient in many subject areas, and a person who is dedicated to the emotional and academic success of the student. The ADS is the personal cheerleader, resource person, tutor and sounding board for student concerns.
Does this make the student dependent? On the contrary, the ADS helps the student self-advocate, problem solve and think critically, fostering greater independence and academic success. Grades and performance are tracked through midterm reports and semester grade statistics. What was last year's outcome? 100 percent retention of students within the program.
What happens after graduation? Many students keep in contact with their ADS after graduation, and the ADS gets invited to weddings, baby showers and other special occasions.
The student who was often told that he should not consider college or who is reminded that she is just wasting her time trying to get into college is now ready to enter the world as a college graduate who has grown in maturity, global awareness and self-confidence. Amazing what a little TLC can do!
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