For many high school seniors, June 1st is the deadline this year for deciding which college to attend. This decision is the culmination of a long process of exploration in which many factors are taken into consideration: location, size of the student body, layout of the campus, athletics, program of studies available, campus activities, student life, and financial aid, to name a few. For college-capable students with learning disabilities, that list of considerations also includes the level of academic and disability support services available to students.
Don’t get me wrong, almost all colleges and universities are now required by law based on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, section 504, to provide accommodations in some form to students with disabilities. However, accommodations alone are sometimes not enough. Sometimes, a student with a learning disability may need traditional accommodations such as extra time on tests, note-taking services, and limited distraction environments, but they may also need more one on one help for study skills, learning strategies, time management, organization, planning, and goal setting; skills and strategies that provide direct support to their learning disability. These students are quite capable of learning at the college level, and in fact, some of them even qualify for Honors colleges or Honors programs. Still, they need additional academic support beyond accommodations to be successful with their post-secondary academic goals.
My son is one of those students, and two years ago, we started the college search process in hopes of finding at least one college with this higher level of academic support. Thankfully, we did not only find one, but we found several. Throughout our search, we discovered colleges in Massachusetts and neighboring states that offer accommodations through not only disability services but also an extensive array of academic support services. In addition to the standard offering of tutoring and other subject-specific help, these colleges also offered services such as peer advising, early alert systems, progress monitoring for students who are not attending class or who have failing grades, and even weekly 1:1 academic coaching. Additionally, a few colleges offer highly structured support programs for people with learning disabilities, and one college is dedicated exclusively to educating students with learning disabilities! Below is the list of colleges we considered in our search that have such extensive support services. Suppose your child is college capable and is considering going to college but is uncertain about whether or not they could succeed on their own. In that case, I encourage you to look at these colleges and the various supports they offer.
- Curry College in Milton, MA, has support called the PAL Program.
- Dean College in Franklin, MA, has a program called the Arch Learning Community is one of many programs available at Dean to support students who need additional help.
- Framingham State University in Framingham, MA, has the Center for Academic Success and Achievement.
- Landmark College in Putney, VT, is a College that is exclusively for students who learn differently.
- The University of Hartford in Hartford, CT, has a Center for Student Success.
- Western New England in Springfield, MA, has the Academic Success Center.
- Westfield State University in Westfield, MA, has the Banacos Learning Disabilities Program in addition to their Banacos Academic Center.
While these schools made our list, and their support services appealed to us, there are certainly other schools that have support services that might be a better match for your child. We did not include any large universities in our search as a disclaimer. Going to a large university would simply have added additional obstacles to my son’s success which I did not think were worth the risk, and thankfully he agreed. That is not to say that large university systems do not have a substantial disability or academic support services and that your child wouldn’t be successful in that environment. I have heard that UCONN and Northeastern have vital programs supporting students with disabilities. As Elizabeth C. Hamblet says in her invaluable book, From High School to College: Steps to Success for Students, “students should seek out schools that suit them in every way so that they will be happy and appropriately supported at the college that they attend.”
Finding a college that is the right fit for any student is a complex process. It is made even more complex when the student has a learning disability. The good news, though, is that quite a few colleges have extensive support services that can help students with disabilities achieve their post-secondary academic goals.