Students with learning disabilities who are planning to go to college should make themselves aware of the general categories of postsecondary educational institutions. Knowing the type of college one will attend affects the student's course selections while still in high school. There are over 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States. In addition to varying in size, scope of program offered, setting (urban, suburban, or rural), residential or commuter, and cost of attendance, there are several factors of special importance for students with learning disabilities.
Some colleges have open admissions. These colleges admit anyone over age 18 or with a high school diploma. At some colleges with open admissions, however, alternate diplomas or certificates of completion may not be acceptable for admission. Students must check with the college to be sure that the earned high school completion document will meet admissions criteria. Standardized college admissions testing is not required at open admissions colleges, nor is any particular high school course selection. Grades in high school are not relevant. Open admissions colleges may be two-year or four-year. They usually do require students to take a "placement exam" to determine at which level to begin college course work. Students who have not taken an academic preparatory program in high school may need to complete some high school level courses before taking college courses for credit toward a college degree. Such courses are usually available as remedial courses and may be taken at the college.
Other colleges have selective admissions requirements. Applicants to selective colleges must meet the criteria set by that particular college. Schools with selective criteria may look for students with high grade point averages, rigorous academic preparation, high scores on the standardized college admissions tests, and strong personal qualities and evidence of achievement. Some colleges are more selective than others. Some standard, commercially available college guides list colleges by the degree of selectivity, or "how hard it is to get in"--from "most difficult" to "minimally difficult." Selective colleges may require applicants to submit high school grade point average and rank in class, scores on standardized admissions tests (SAT or ACT), and letters of recommendation. Some may require a personal interview, and some may be particularly interested in the student's extracurricular activities.
Types of Institutions
Two-year colleges are most frequently public community colleges located in urban, suburban, and rural areas across the United States. Most are open admissions institutions and are non-residential. Some are independent (private) junior colleges which encourage students to earn an Associate Degree. Community colleges attract students who choose to take either a few selected courses in their interest area, vocational courses to train for specific jobs, as well as those who pursue an undergraduate certificate (to study a specific field of training), or an Associate Degree, some of whom plan to transfer to a four-year institution.
Four-year colleges or universities may be open enrollment or selective. Most require students to pursue a degree, and many are residential. Four-year colleges are also located in various settings, and in small communities they may be the center of cultural life. Tuition, room, board, and books are generally more expensive per year than the cost of attendance at a community college.
Colleges with programs for students with learning disabilities
Hundreds of colleges and universities have comprehensive programs on campus specially designed for students with learning disabilities. Staffed by individuals trained in the area of learning disabilities, these programs offer--in addition to the standard services offered by the campus as a whole--services that go above and beyond making a program accessible. Examples include tutoring services, either in students' coursework on in general areas of deficit, such as study skills, organizational skills, or time management. Counseling services may also be provided--personal, academic, or vocational. As the services provided in such programs do go above and beyond those that the college or university is required to provide under Section 504 and ADA, many colleges and universities charge for these services above the tuition fee. (Services required by Section 504 and ADA are provided at no cost to the student.) It is also possible that such programs have their own separate admissions requirements. Students who wish to learn more about such programs should either call each of the colleges and universities that they are interested in and ask if such a program exists on campus, or check one of the many guidebooks found in public libraries and bookstores that contain listings of, and information about, such programs.
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.
This section is an excerpt from a digest created by ERIC, the Educational Resources Information Center, entitled "College Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities."
Adapted from HEATH Resource Center, http://www.kidsource.com/heath/index.html
Choosing the Liberal Arts Option
We view ourselves as a nation of practical individuals striving towards accomplishments and tangible achievements. Education today is highly valued and fortunately a variety of educational alternatives are offered for individuals who have differing interests and abilities. The quick pace of our society and accessibility to vast resources allow individuals to exercise creativity and insight leading to outcomes that previously only occurred in dreams and science fiction tales. We envision ambitious results and almost instantaneously methods to achieve these results present themselves.
By promoting the view of practicality becoming a measure of meaning and value, we may be conveying an underlying suspicion of ideas that show no immediate practical application. This directly conflicts with the goals of higher education as promoted by liberal arts institutions. A liberal arts education is aimed at introducing students to the satisfactions of learning for its own sake with less emphasis upon practical application.
Incoming students frequently give their reason for pursuing a college degree as, "You can't get anywhere today without a college degree." Generally true, but if this viewpoint is continued through the choice of a practical major because it "will help me make lots of money" or "because I can always get a job in this area", students may miss some of the advantages offered by a true liberal arts education.
Many parents of college-aged students are caught in this conundrum as they try to help their children down the road to success. They may be products of the 1960's when the need for relevance, practicality, and specific career directions was heavily stressed. They obviously espouse the view that higher education leads to success because they are willing to pay ridiculous amounts and make major sacrifices to give their children advantages in the hope that they will be positioned for future success. Since they have acted as primary planning agents in earlier years, parents continue to assist in the college search process and the next step is obviously a need to monitor choice of majors and minors. Questions such as, "What can you do with this major?", or "What are the job options in this field?"are posed and discussed at length.
This leads to thoughts that parents could actually be doing a disservice to their children by insisting they evaluate their future and make life-changing decisions in light of their slight past knowledge and no knowledge what so ever of what the future will bring. While well-intentioned, these questions could be erroneously undermining the central purpose of a liberal education. Perhaps questions should be directed towards, "What area seems to be the most interesting?" "Which courses do you enjoy studying?" "Which subject matter do you think about most often?" The following are thoughts that support this view.
Beginning with Harvard College, our first venture into higher education, the purpose of higher education has never been as narrow as "to get a good job". Sending adolescents into higher education has been seen as a way to introduce them into a community of learning and allow them additional time to develop their interests. While they explore, they interact in an environment that is varied, diverse, as well as intellectual. A liberal arts education is carefully designed to give exploration opportunities that widen expanses, not to narrowly define careers and construct boundaries. As we move beyond formal education, it quickly becomes obvious that learning never ends and a true love of learning is a solid base leading to fulfillment, realized dreams, and avoidance of future regrets.
All who work with students will attest to the fact that there is an enormous growth occurring in college years. Students begin struggling with academic demands as adolescents and emerge triumphantly as adult, self-directed learners. At first they stumble, resist, become frustrated but slowly they acclimate and blossom beyond our expectations. Most times it appears to be the intellectual environment, the association with ideas, and the general community itself that are the change agents contributing most to this growth rather than specific individuals with whom the students become involved.
After initial exploration students are encouraged to study in greater depth an area that they love (choose a major). What area they choose is not as important as the feeling that the subject matter is personally interesting and satisfying. In-depth study in itself creates a feeling of reward and accomplishment and paves the way for future satisfactions. When you do what you love, it is no longer work but your efforts become a part of who you are and leads to inspiration and self direction.
The other factor that weighs into the choices made during a liberal education is how to determine what will be "useful" for the next 50 years. How does one decide what will continue to "make lots of money" as opposed to being phased out by technology? How can we expect an 18-20 year old to have enough insight to choose what will become and remain a vital area for the next 50 years? A variety of interests and an overriding love of learning for the satisfaction of learning itself leave doors open and make changing paths easier.
As parents watch students go through this stage, they should keep in mind that having great success without happiness is not a goal anyone would willingly choose. They should be saying, "Yes, I'm glad you are taking another course in _____since you seem to be fascinated by it." and, "Take your time and get as much out of this experience as you can. There is no rush to get out into the working world." If a purely practical approach to career choice is what either parents or students desire, perhaps educational options other than a 4-year liberal arts school are more appropriate.
Parents should continue to provide encouragement and support for students to take initiatives, to change their minds, to exercise their intuitive creativity and to do academic exploration. By dong this, they fully support their children and also the philosophy of a mind-expanding, liberal arts education.