Is college the right choice for students with LD?
Monday, March 28, 2016
Parents and educators work hard to help prepare their children to become successful adults, and obtaining a college degree is typically seen as the path to success. But what about other avenues?
This question is especially important for children with learning differences. Studies show varying graduation rates, but they all clearly indicate students with learning differences have a far more difficult time obtaining a high school diploma, and attaining the elusive college degree.
Historically, only a small portion of the U.S. population graduated college. In 1970, only about 10 percent of adults had a college degree, and by 2000, it was still less that 25 percent.
Back then, it was accepted that you could make a living without going to college. Today, the options seem limited to working construction or doing clerical work, and having a learning difference doesn't mean either of these options is attractive.
There are other choices. In 2007, Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, released a study that showed over 33 percent of American entrepreneurs reported they were dyslexic. In contrast, only about 1 percent of corporate managers identified with being dyslexic, and only 10 percent of the overall population is estimated to be dyslexic.
Although this group typically struggled in school, they had many of the soft skills required to succeed in business: creative problem solving, ability to delegate, excellent oral communication skills and perseverance.
Unfortunately, the dream of owning your own business is not provided as a viable option for our younger generation. A 2015 study by the Kauffman Index shows the number of 20- to 34-year-olds who start their own businesses has dropped from 34.3 percent in 1996 to 24.7 percent in 2014. In the same time period, the percentage has gone up for adults over 45.
When we provide options for high school students, they tend to consist of "apply to at least 10 colleges," not "consider if college is the right course for you." Starting your own business is considered risky, but is spending $200,000 on college and leaving with an enormous debt any less risky?
We often hear about the Richard Bransons and Charles Schwabs of the world who were successful entrepreneurs. Their stories seem out of reach for many of us. Here are two case studies of young entrepreneurs who decided to start their own companies as opposed to plugging away at the elusive college degree.
New fashion label
Rebecca, an Australian who was looking for ways out of a dead-end job, finished a one-year internship program at a business incubator for people with learning differences where she focused on her passion of fashion design and entrepreneurship.
At the lab, she acquired the tools to launch a new label in beachwear fashion. Mentors helped her identify and work with industry contacts to learn the industry and educated her on the business concepts she would need to understand to produce her line.
Rebecca also acquired seed funding to produce her samples and create her specs for manufacturing. She now has the knowledge to source a manufacturer, get the garments produced and start selling.
New app design company
Three young men — none had made it through college — created a new company, Hyperapptive (you have to love the name). They met at the same business incubator, quickly realized they have complementary skill sets, came up with a bunch of ideas and one rose to the top (they can't disclose what it is yet).
They were concerned because they didn't have money, but they learned all the elements of creating a pitch deck — a detailed business presentation — and presented to investors in Washington, D.C. The team practiced their pitch many times to various audience types where they were prepped with possible investor questions. They stood their ground for over an hour and raised nearly $270,000 from the investors and their friends and family who were excited by their idea.
College is a great avenue for many of our young adults, but maybe we should be discussing other options with our children and students. As a society, if we recognize the entrepreneurial brilliance that people with learning differences have contributed to our economy, isn't it our obligation to do so?
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