Life with LD: Navigating the Transition to College

The transition from high school to college can be a confusing time for any student. Deciding which school to attend is one of the biggest decisions a student will make. But for students with learning and attention issues, there are some additional hurdles to navigate.

NCLD recently released The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5, the fourth edition of NCLD’s powerful, data-filled publication. The report explores many facets of being a student with learning and attention issues, including the transition from high school to college and the workforce.

One of the most important decisions a student makes in their academic career is whether or not to go to college. Yet, while students with learning disabilities are just as smart as their peers, they attend four-year colleges at half the rate. And those who do attend college are less likely to complete it.

So what is getting in their way? Why are students with learning and attention issues struggling in college? And what can they and their support systems do to help?

NCLD has identified three components that are important to the success of students with learning and attention issues as they enter college:

  1. REDUCING STIGMA & PROMOTING SELF-ADVOCACY

Once they leave high school, students with learning disabilities no longer have the same guarantees to special education and accommodations that they had in high school.  Instead, students need to be their own self-advocates and disclose their learning and attention issues in order to receive accommodations in college.

But far too many students do not disclose their LD or request accommodations. Some students fear they will be perceived as lazy or unintelligent by disclosing their LD, and therefore do not take the proper steps to secure accommodations for their college classes. In fact, less than 1 in 20 students with disabilities disclose their specific learning disability in postsecondary schools.

While some students may want to distance themselves from the label of “learning disability” once they get to college, it can be detrimental to their success.  Instead, it helps students more when they focus on self-advocacy, including understanding one’s own needs and being able to explain those needs to others. Because individuals do not grow out of their learning and attention issues, college can be even more challenging without the necessary accommodations. One study found that undergraduates who waited until after their first year in college to request accommodations were 3.5 times more likely not to graduate within six years.

  1. ENCOURAGING RESILIENCE & PERSISTENCE

In addition to seeking out the accommodations and services that they need, persistence is key for individuals with learning and attention issues as they navigate higher education. Researchers have found that characteristics of resilience, like a positive temperament and recognizing that learning disabilities do not go away with time are crucial to success. Resilience and persistence are skills that can be developed over time, through processes like self-regulation.

External factors are also important, like having supportive family members, educators and community groups. In fact, research shows that having a supportive parent or mentor is imperative to fostering resilience in young adults with learning and attention issues.

  1. PROVIDING ACCESS TO INFORMATION ON ACCOMMODATIONS

Before students with learning and attention issues can enroll in college, they must overcome another major hurdle: finding information about the services offered at different schools and about how to get accommodations. This information is not in one place, may be difficult to find, and can be confusing to students and parents.  In fact, nearly three-quarters of parents surveyed by NCLD stated it was difficult to find information on disability services in college. More than half also found the process to get accommodations difficult and unclear.

Different colleges may set different requirements a student must meet to show that they need accommodations or services on campus. Less than half of colleges that require documentation of a disability will accept a student’s IEP or 504 plan as sufficient, stand-alone verification. This results in many students being required to undergo additional evaluations that are costly and time-consuming. Some students decide not to repeat the identification process and instead continue through school without the accommodations they need to succeed.

Too many students with learning and attention issues are denied the opportunity to succeed in college.  But focusing on developing critical skills like persistence and self-advocacy and streamlining the process for students to receive accommodations and supports in college can go a long way to ensuring their success.

In fact, Congress has recently taken steps to prevent students with disabilities from being denied accommodations or services. The Respond, Innovate, Support, and Empower (RISE) Act has been introduced in the House and the Senate.  Led by Senator Casey (D-PA), Senator Hatch (R-UT), Senator Hassan (D-NH), Senator Cassidy (R-LA), Rep. Bonamici (D-OR), and Rep. Bucshon (R-IN), the RISE Act amends the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) to ensure that students with disabilities thrive in college by providing more information for parents, increasing access to accommodations for students, and providing training and resources for college faculty and staff.

For information about the RISE Act or to ask your Member of Congress to support the bill and make college accessible for all students, visit ncld.org/RISE.

To learn more about the many issues facing the 1 in 5 with learning and attention issues and how parents, educators, advocates, and policymakers can make a difference, see our full report – The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5.

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