January 27th, 2017

Transitioning to Life
After High School

Transitioning to Life After High School

After 12th grade, individuals with learning and attention issues will only receive accommodations^ in college or the workplace if they disclose their disabilities. But many students leave high school without the self-awareness, self-advocacy skills or self-confidence to successfully navigate their new independence and seek out support when needed.

Personal Perspective

Savannah Treviño-Casias

“When the trigonometry professor refused to accommodate me for my dyscalculia, I reached out to the community college’s disability services office. I also talked to the dean of students. I looked for and found the people at the school who were empowered and prepared to step in when issues like this arise.”Savannah Treviño-Casias, psychology major in Arizona


1. Success in college and the workplace is heavily influenced by internal resilience factors such as temperament and self-perception.

As noted earlier in this report, individuals with learning and attention issues are as smart as their peers and, with the right support, can achieve at high levels.

But low self-esteem and low expectations help explain why young adults with learning disabilities^ attend four-year colleges at half the rate of the general population and why those who do attend college are less likely to complete it.1 Challenges related to self-determination also help explain why adults with learning disabilities are more likely to have semi-skilled part-time jobs2—or to have left the workforce completely—than their peers without learning disabilities.3

Researchers are learning more about how resilience can help individuals with learning and attention issues persist and succeed in college or the workplace.4 Characteristics of resilience include:

  • Having a positive temperament
  • Recognizing that a disability is not something you “grow out” of
  • Identifying and using accommodations^ and strategies
  • Knowing how to self-advocate in school or at work

External influences such as family members, educators and community groups can have a significant impact on individuals with learning and attention issues as they make decisions related to school or work. When students struggle academically or socially, research indicates that having a supportive parent, mentor or other caring adult is one of the strongest protective factors that help them remain resilient.

One way schools and communities can help shape students’ self-image is by emphasizing their strengths instead of just focusing on their weaknesses. More research is needed in this area, but helping students believe in themselves may be as important as making them aware of available resources and how to access them.

“Stigma experienced by students with learning and attention issues can be pervasive and can affect many aspects of their lives and self-perception. It’s harder—but all the more important—to teach self-advocacy to someone with low self-esteem.”


—Manju Banerjee, Ph.D.,
Vice president of educational research and innovation at Landmark College

2. Stigma and other factors deter many undergraduates from accessing key resources in college, where only one-fourth of students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) disclose that they have a disability.

Up through 12th grade, school districts are responsible for identifying students with disabilities. But after high school, the responsibility shifts to the young adults themselves. They need to be proactive and disclose their disability to receive accommodations in college or the workplace.

The National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS2) followed approximately 12,000 students receiving special education for 10 years as they transitioned from high school to adult life.5 Students who were identified in high school as having SLD accounted for the largest portion (67%) of the study’s participants who enrolled in some type of postsecondary education.6 However, only one-fourth of students with SLD informed their college that they have a disability.

“Our study found that most students with learning disabilities did not self-identify when they got to college. The few who disclosed were just the tip of the iceberg.”


—Lynn Newman, Ed.D.,
Senior education researcher at SRI International who directed the NLTS2

Recent research confirms the low rates of disclosure identified by the NLTS2. Of the 1 in 9 undergraduates (11.1%) who disclosed any kind of disability to their college in 2011–2012, only 1 in 20 (4.8%) reported having learning disabilities even though it is the largest disability category for K–12 students.7 More research is needed to understand why students were more likely to report having other kinds of “invisible” disabilities including mental illness/depression (30.8%) or ADHD^ (21.8%).8

Why Don’t Undergraduates Disclose Their SLD?

Studies of disclosure rates indicate there are many reasons why students who were identified in high school with SLD don’t tell their college they have a disability.9 These reasons include:

  • Wanting to establish an identity independent of disability status
  • Shame or fear of being perceived as lazy or unintelligent or of getting an unfair advantage by requesting accommodations
  • Fear of receiving no response or a negative response from faculty who may not know much about certain disabilities or about the laws that protect against discrimination
  • Underestimating how important accommodations are to their academic success
  • Not knowing what kinds of disability services are available in college or how to access them
  • Having a high school transition plan^ that does not specify needed postsecondary accommodations and supports

Armed with the knowledge that many undergraduates with learning disabilities do not disclose their disability, colleges can do more to support students with undisclosed disabilities. Research indicates at least three ways colleges can help:

First, colleges should encourage all students to use resources such as writing labs or math labs. Research shows that students with learning disabilities who use these universally available resources—which can be accessed by any student, regardless of disability disclosure—are more likely to be successful in completing postsecondary school.10

Second, colleges should engage in outreach efforts to (a) provide information to students about how to apply for accommodations, and (b) raise awareness among faculty about learning and attention issues and services and supports that are available, so they can encourage students to take advantage of these resources.

Third, colleges should increase their efforts to integrate all incoming students into the campus community. Research suggests that students with disabilities who interact with faculty and students outside of class may be more likely to persist from the first year to the second year of college than students who experience little or no academic or social integration.11

3. Applying for accommodations can be a cumbersome process, and students who don’t receive support early face an increased risk of not graduating.

Most two-year and four-year colleges enroll students with disabilities and provide accommodations such as extended time on tests, classroom note-takers and tutoring to help develop learning strategies or study skills.12 However, even undergraduates who disclose their disabilities often have trouble accessing the kinds of services and supports they received in high school. This table describes common obstacles to applying for or receiving accommodations in college.

Lack of information about disability services In an unpublished NCLD survey conducted in 2016, 45% of parents whose children were seeking college accommodations said it was difficult to find information about disability services in college. The RISE Act, which was introduced in December 2016 and is discussed in detail lower down in this chapter, would provide funding to create a one-stop resource for information about disability services in college. These services include providing textbooks and other materials in digital formats—often powered by nonprofits like Bookshare and AMAC—and assistive technologies such as text-to-speech software to ensure accessibility for individuals with print disabilities.
Documentation requirements Less than half of colleges that require documentation of a disability accept an IEP or 504 plan as sufficient, stand-alone verification.13 Some colleges will not accept evaluations that are more than three years old. Others require diagnostic data that are normed for adults rather than K–12 students. These requirements are unnecessarily burdensome, especially in light of the fact that private evaluations are costly and may be out of reach for many undergraduates. Best practices call for colleges and universities to accept K–12 documentation or even students’ own narrative of their experience as evidence of their disability and the accommodations and supports they need to succeed in postsecondary settings.14 The RISE Act would require all colleges to accept an IEP or 504 plan as proof of a disability so students don’t need to undergo additional evaluations.
Different standards Colleges vary greatly in their disability determinations and are often far more restrictive than high schools in granting accommodations. These differences are often due to a lack of oversight and to a lack of knowledge among faculty and other personnel about the nature of learning disabilities and ADHD.

Several studies underscore the importance of accessing disability services early in an undergraduate’s education:

  • One study of undergraduates at a large state university found that the risk of not graduating within six years was 3.5 times higher for students who waited until after their first year in college to request accommodations.15
  • Another study grouped students based on when they began receiving support and found that the mean GPA was highest for students who were early disclosers.16
  • Among students with learning disabilities and ADHD, those who attended a learning support center had higher GPAs than those who did not use such services.17
  • An analysis of 2006–2011 data found that the GPAs of students with learning disabilities and ADHD who used support services such as study skills tutoring, coaching, writing and math lab, and academic advising increased with each hour of support services.18

For these reasons, it is essential for incoming students to be made aware of the kinds of services available as well as how to request them.

4. Working-age adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to be jobless as their peers who do not have disabilities.

Stigma, accessibility issues in the workplace and lower rates of high school and college completion can negatively impact employment outcomes for adults with learning and attention issues. Self-determination and the knowledge and skills needed to request workplace accommodations also play critical roles in preparing high school students for success in the workplace.19

According to an analysis of 2010 census data, only half (46%) of working-age adults with learning disabilities were employed, compared to 71% of adults without learning disabilities.20 The analysis also found that adults with learning disabilities were twice as likely to have dropped out of the labor force completely as compared to their peers without learning disabilities.

More research is needed to understand why the employment disparity is so stark. To the extent that employers may be reluctant to hire workers with disclosed learning disabilities, a 2013 survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicates that such attitudes are shortsighted. While adults with a diagnosed learning disability in the U.S. were about twice as likely to have low skills in literacy and numeracy as adults without disabilities, the report noted that “it is striking that fully two-thirds of those with diagnosed learning disabilities are not low-skilled in literacy, with some (around 6%) performing at the highest levels.”21

The employment disparity also is far less pronounced among those who graduate from college. One study that looked only at college graduates with learning disabilities reported that of the 500 participants, 75% were employed full-time and the unemployment rate among this group was in fact slightly better than the national rate.22 However, while nearly three-fourths of the study’s participants indicated that their learning disabilities impacted their job in some way, less than 10% requested accommodations. Some respondents who did not self-disclose indicated there was no need to do so, while others said they did not self-disclose out of fear of negative impact on relationships with coworkers, supervisors, or clients.

19%of young adults with learning disabilities reported that their employers were aware of their disability


5%of young adults with learning disabilities reported that they were receiving accommodations in the workplace

Other studies also show a reluctance to disclose disabilities and seek out accommodations. According to NLTS2, just 19% of young adults with learning disabilities reported that their employers were aware of their disability, and only 5% reported that they were receiving accommodations in the workplace.23 Fear of stigma is likely a contributing factor. But so is lack of awareness about job accommodations. More research is needed to expand on small-scale studies that found over two-thirds of adults with learning disabilities had either never heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or did not feel confident enough to use it to secure needed accommodations.24



1. Self-advocacy and other factors that help students stay in college can be taught, practiced and supported.

More students with learning and attention issues than ever before are going to college. But far too often, these students don’t complete their programs of study. Students with learning and attention issues are most successful when they are active self-advocates with a strong network of supporters who believe they can succeed. Developing school- and community-based programs that provide more opportunities to work on self-advocacy skills—and the confidence to use them—will contribute greatly to social and emotional well-being, academic success and career readiness.

Self-advocacy is particularly important for students with learning and attention issues. These students will need accommodations throughout their schooling and in the workforce. To ask for and receive accommodations, these young adults must not only understand their needs but also be able to explain them to others.

Accommodations play a key role in self-regulation, which in turn helps fuel students’ persistence. As noted in a 2012 report by the National Research Council, “Students who are self-regulating—who set goals, make plans for reaching their goals, and then monitor and regulate their cognitions and behavior—are more likely to do well on academic tasks.”25

Elementary and secondary schools can help develop self-advocacy skills by:

  • Fostering a culture of acceptance
  • Using Universal Design for Learning to help meet the needs of all learners
  • Changing school climate in ways that help students develop strong relationships with peers and adults
  • Building opportunities to practice self-advocacy skills in a safe and supportive environment

Self-advocacy begins with students understanding how they think and learn. Research indicates that students with learning and attention issues are four times more likely than other students to struggle with self-confidence, which is also an important predictor of success.26 For these reasons, it is important to ensure that students are given opportunities to develop a strong sense of self-acceptance and self-worth.

Parents and educators can help with this by fostering a culture of acceptance. Giving students opportunities to explore and understand how they learn can help them begin to develop a “can-do” attitude and a growth mindset, which allows them to persevere when faced with challenges in school and life. Children and young adults need to be taught—and need to practice—self-advocacy skills in a safe place, knowing they will be supported, with teachers and other caring adults and peers by their side.

More colleges are creating programs to help young adults with learning and attention issues stay in school and on track to graduate. These programs not only help students adjust to the changes in expectations and responsibilities that occur during the transition from high school to higher education—they also ensure that faculty are prepared to work with students and provide accommodations as needed.

NCLD’s Student Voices

In 2015, NLCD surveyed young adults with learning and attention issues to discover which factors contribute to successful transition outcomes. Participants in the Student Voices study were asked to reflect on their experiences in the years immediately before and after leaving high school. Three common themes emerged among those who had successfully transitioned to college or the workforce: a supportive home life, a strong sense of self-confidence and a strong connection to friends and community.27

The study points to the critical importance of factors beyond academic achievement in understanding the characteristics and needs of this population. The findings, which are consistent with data about dropout rates, emphasize the role of social and emotional factors in supporting school completion.

In highlighting self-confidence as one of the keys to success, Student Voices reinforces the value of encouraging students to help lead transition planning and the importance of self-advocacy in general.

2. Transition planning is critical to preparing students with disabilities for life after high school, and some states are starting early.

IEP teams must develop transition plans that include:

  • Measurable postsecondary goals that acknowledge the students’ needs, preferences and interests
  • Any transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist students in reaching those goals
  • A summary of performance (SOP) that includes recommendations on how to help graduates meet their postsecondary goals; this document may help students obtain accommodations in college or vocational rehabilitation services

For decades, federal law has acknowledged the importance of helping students with disabilities plan for the transition to life after high school. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an Individualized Education Program^ (IEP) must include postsecondary transition plans by the time students turn 16. Some states require earlier start dates. For example, Wisconsin requires IEPs to include transition plans by the time students turn 14.28

As with IEPs in general, the formal transition plans that are developed by IEP teams can be powerful tools that help students with learning and attention issues develop the skills they need to thrive in school and in life.

A 2016 analysis of NLTS2 participants found that receipt of transition-planning education in high school and having postsecondary accommodations specified on high school transition plans significantly increased the odds of students with disabilities at two-year colleges seeking and using disability services and other postsecondary supports.29

Research has also found that taking a concentration of occupationally specific career and technical education courses (four or more credits) in high school increases the odds of students with learning disabilities being employed during the first two postsecondary years.30

As the field begins to analyze the first wave of high school data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012 (released in March 2017), data from this new study as well as NLTS2 and other sources offer key insights into how transition planning can be improved, as detailed in this table below.

Increase student involvement
  • Less than half of students 17 or older (41%) with SLD reported playing “at least an equal part” in developing goals for their transition plan and/or IEP.
  • 29% had not met with school staff to develop a transition plan.
Develop more robust transition goals
  • 1 in 4 had IEPs that did not specify a course of study to meet transition goals.
  • About half (55%) had IEPs that identified the need for postsecondary education accommodations.
Increase parent engagement
  • 45% of parents of students with all types of disabilities reported that most goal-setting decisions were made by school staff.
  • 32% of parents of students with SLD said they wanted more involvement.
Increase involvement of outside agencies
  • One-fourth (26%) of students with SLD had transition plans that involved schools contacting two- or four-year colleges or vocational schools on their behalf.
Increase understanding of the supports students will need after high school
  • Slightly more than half of students whose high school transition plans specified the types of supports and accommodations they would need in postsecondary school accessed universally available supports (e.g., tutors, writing centers) at two- and four-year colleges, compared to only about one-third of students with similar characteristics whose transition plans did not include these specifics. Students whose transition plans specified postsecondary supports and accommodations were also significantly more likely to receive disability-specific supports at two- and four-year colleges.

Sources: Preparing for life after high school: The characteristics and experiences of youth in special education. Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012. Volume 2: Comparisons across disability groups (2017). Transition Planning for Students with Disabilities: A Special Topic Report of Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (2004). Newman, L., Madaus, J., & Javitz, H. (2016). Effect of transition planning activities on postsecondary support receipt by students with disabilities. Exceptional Children. 82(4), 497-514.

What About 504 Plans?

504 plans are commonly provided to students with ADHD and—at least in Texas—to large numbers of students with dyslexia^.31 But unlike IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act does not require school teams to develop transition plans for every student with a qualifying disability, nor does it require parental involvement.

Too often, students with a 504 plan^ leave high school without formal transition planning or self-advocacy skills. Help in these areas may be particularly important for students with ADHD, which affects executive functioning and time-management skills that are vital for success in college or the workplace. Stigma may also make students with ADHD less likely to ask for help.

It’s important and possible to provide transition planning to students with 504 plans as well as to students with IEPs. Schools should help all students with disabilities—but especially those with learning disabilities and ADHD—develop self-advocacy skills and build independence.

In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Education published a comprehensive guide to help students with disabilities transition to postsecondary education and employment. The guide offers many resources and includes a full discussion of such topics as education and employment goals, vocational rehabilitation, rights and responsibilities, and financing.32

3. Changes in high-stakes testing may increase college and workforce opportunities for students with disabilities.

Many students with learning and attention issues have encountered significant hurdles when they request accommodations on high-stakes tests such as the SAT or ACT, as well as licensing exams for cosmetology and other trades. Failure among testing entities to understand and meet their obligations under ADA can limit the opportunities available to individuals with disabilities.

In response to “excessive and burdensome documentation demands” and other complaints, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a technical assistance brief in 2015. This document clarified several points, including:

In 2015, DOJ made clear that a history of academic success is not a reason to deny testing accommodations to a person with a disability:


“For example, someone with a learning disability may achieve a high level of academic success, but may nevertheless be substantially limited in one or more of the major life activities of reading, writing, speaking, or learning, because of the additional time or effort he or she must spend to read, write, speak, or learn compared to most people in the general population.”

  • Testing entities are obligated to provide accommodations under ADA for any exam related to licensing, certification or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional or trade purposes.
  • Testing entities are prohibited from flagging scores for individuals with disabilities who receive accommodations.
  • Proof of past test accommodations is generally sufficient in a student’s request for current test accommodations.

DOJ also hosted a webinar about key ADA provisions to help state leaders in K–12 education learn more about accommodations on standardized tests. The webinar also asked states and schools to report inappropriate denials of test accommodations to DOJ.

Testing entities have responded by streamlining the way students apply for accommodations. Some tests are also incorporating accessibility features and other design changes that are likely to benefit students with learning and attention issues. The table below details some of the recent changes.

State testing
  • ESSA allows states to approve school districts’ use of  a national test like the SAT or ACT in place of their statewide assessment for high school students. This could benefit students with learning and attention issues in several ways. If a school district chooses to use a nationally recognized test:
    • All students would take the test before graduating from high school.
    • Students with disabilities would receive the same accommodations they receive on all other tests.
    • The scores would be able to be used to apply for college—and can’t be considered invalid even if certain accommodations are used.
  • 26 states participate, as of the 2016–2017 school year, in one of the two Common Core State Standard consortia—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium—which encourage the use of computer-based testing.
    • Built-in accessibility features are part of both the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests. Some features such as spell-check and magnified text are available to all students. Other features can be activated as needed to accommodate students with disabilities.
    • Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is also part of both the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests, which are designed to help diverse learners access the content and demonstrate their knowledge.
SAT (a college admissions test)
  • Accommodation requests will be automatically approved, starting Jan. 1, 2017, for students whose current, formal school-based plan such as an IEP or 504 plan includes testing accommodations. This change applies to all tests administered by the College Board, including the SAT, PSAT and AP exams.33
ACT (a college admissions test)
  • Changes to the system for requesting accommodations are expected to speed up the process by 10 days.34
  • Other streamlining initiatives, announced in May 2016, aim to reduce the amount of material school officials need to send in order to support a request for accommodations.
  • Disability documentation is still required. As of February 2017, the ACT had not changed its policy of requiring documentation of a disability that was conducted within three academic years of the date of the request.35
GED (a test to earn a credential equivalent to a high school diploma)
  • The 2014 redesign resulted in a computer-based test that incorporates UDL.
  • Built-in accessibility tools such as text enlargement and color/contrast changes can be used by any student.
  • Disability documentation is still required. As of February 2017, the GED had not changed its policy of requiring documentation of a learning disability that is less than five years old and documentation of ADHD that is less than three years old.36

4. The RISE Act would make it easier for students with disabilities to receive accommodations when they transition to college.

The Respond, Innovate, Succeed and Empower Act (RISE Act)—introduced in December 2016 by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA)—aims to help students with disabilities succeed in college in two important ways.

First, it would require colleges to accept an IEP or 504 plan as evidence of a disability, which would make it easier and less costly for students to receive accommodations in college.

Second, the RISE Act would provide $10 million to fund the National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD), which provides information on best practices on how to help students with disabilities succeed as they transition to or attend postsecondary education. This new technical assistance center is designed for prospective and current students with disabilities and their families, as well as teachers and professionals in K–12 and higher education. It will feature:

  • Online tutorials about topics such as accommodations, documentation and disability rights
  • A clearinghouse of articles and other resources on higher education and disability
  • A database of college disability student organizations that will help families know what is available to students at each college
“The RISE Act clears the path for students with disabilities to get the support they need to thrive and succeed in college. No student with a documented disability should have to incur additional costs to prove it when they get to college, and I commend the National Center for Learning Disabilities for working with me on solving this critical issue.”


—U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

5. WIOA provides meaningful support for students with disabilities as they transition to postsecondary employment.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) became law in 2014.37 This law, which seeks to maximize job opportunities for youth and adults with and without disabilities, demonstrates a major federal commitment to strengthening the important connection between education and career preparation. It supports students with disabilities during their transition in several ways:

  • Requires state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies to set aside at least 15% of their program funds to provide pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) to help high school students with disabilities make the transition to postsecondary education and employment
  • Requires that these transition services be made available to all students with disabilities, including those with 504 plans
  • Requires states to coordinate services including those for youth transitioning from high school to postsecondary education
  • Improves access to job training, education and employment services for young adults with learning disabilities and other people who have traditionally faced barriers to employment
  • Ensures—through nearly 2,500 American Job Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Labor—that employment and training services are accessible to people with disabilities

The law also expands services to high school dropouts ages 14 to 24 who are eligible under IDEA or Section 504, and focuses on the need for all youth with disabilities to have more opportunities to practice and improve their workplace skills, to consider their career interests, and to get real-world work experience.

6. Three new resources focus on helping adults with disabilities find employment and succeed in the workplace.

In addition to WIOA, several other initiatives were launched during the last several years that aim to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The Campaign for Disability Employment
Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the Campaign for Disability Employment is a collaborative effort among several disability and business organizations to encourage employers and others to recognize the value and talent that people with disabilities bring to the workplace. The campaign, which launched in 2009, includes a powerful series of public service announcements and accompanying resources for employers, educators, families, and youth and adults with disabilities.
Employment First
The National LEAD Center
Funded by ODEP, this interactive tool is housed on the National LEAD Center’s website and enables visitors to compare national and state data such as the number and percentage of people with and without disabilities who are employed. The LEAD Center is a collaborative of disability, workforce and economic empowerment organizations. It aims to promote systems changes at the state level to improve employment and economic advancement for people with disabilities.
New Section 503 regulations in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 In 2013, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a rule with the goal of reducing barriers for individuals with disabilities in the workforce. The rule does several things:

  • Establishes a goal that all contractors working with the federal government will aim to ensure that at least 7% of the people they employ have disabilities
  • Requires companies to provide applicants with an opportunity to self-identify as having a disability (before they become employees)
  • Requires companies to offer employees routine opportunities to voluntarily self-identify as having a disability
  • Requires companies to compare the number of individuals with disabilities who apply for jobs to the number of those who are hired
  • Requires contractors to inform subcontractors of these responsibilities

DOL is focused on collecting and analyzing data around the engagement and hiring of individuals with disabilities. Ultimately, DOL hopes these efforts lead to a culture shift concerning disability, disclosure, and hiring practices within the federal government and among its contractors.

For a full discussion of how to address the challenges and opportunities discussed in this chapter, see NCLD’s Recommended Policy Changes.



North Carolina’s College STAR Program Helps Keep Students on a Path to Graduation

College STAR is living up to its acronym: Supporting Transition, Access and Retention. The program, which is currently offered at three universities in North Carolina, helps incoming students with learning disabilities and ADHD transition to college—and continues to work with them through graduation.

Students receive daily supports such as tutoring and developing time-management skills. College STAR also provides professional development to help faculty understand and meet the needs of students with learning and attention issues. The program is free for students, thanks to the generous support of a consortium of foundations.

At East Carolina University (ECU), the student-support arm of the College STAR program is called STEPP. Since STEPP launched in 2006, its retention rate has been 92%, compared to the university’s overall retention rate of 81%.

ECU senior Emily Bosak has one more semester to go before she graduates. The Hospitality Leadership major has dyslexia and says she doesn’t think she would have made it this far in college without STEPP. “The greatest thing STEPP has given me is confidence in myself and an understanding that I am a person of value who will do great things in the world,” she says. “That confidence is what students with LD need most. They can do it, but they just need someone to remind them they can.”

1. Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A., Marder, C., Nagle, K. Shaver, D., & Wei, X. (2011). The Post-High School Outcomes of Young Adults With Disabilities up to 8 Years After High School: A Report From the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (NCSER 2011-3005). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
2. Gregg, N. (2011) Adolescents and Adults with Learning Disabilities and ADHD: Assessment and Accommodation. Guilford Press.
3. Kaye, H.S. (2013). Unpublished data analysis of 2010 data from the U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation. Data retrieved August 2013.
4. Gregg, N. (2014). Adults with learning disabilities: Factors contributing to persistence. Handbook of Learning Disabilities, 2nd Edition. Guilford Press.
5. Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A., Marder, C., Nagle, K. Shaver, D., & Wei, X. (2011). The Post-High School Outcomes of Young Adults With Disabilities up to 8 Years After High School: A Report From the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (NCSER 2011-3005). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
6. Ibid.
7. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2014). Profile of Undergraduate Students: 2011-2012. Web Tables, October 2014. RTI International.
8. Ibid.
9. Newman, L. A., Madaus, J. W., Javitz, H. S. (2016). Effect of transition planning on postsecondary support receipt by students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82(4), 497-514. doi: 10.1177/0014402915615884; Kranke, D., Jackson, S. E., Taylor, D. A., Anderson-Fye, E., & Floersch, J. (2013). College student disclosure of non-apparent disabilities to receive classroom accommodations. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 26(1), 35-51; Lightner, K. L., Kipps-Vaughan, D., Schulte, T., & Trice, A. D. (2012). Reasons university students with a learning disability wait to seek disability services. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 25(1), 145-159; Marshak, L., Van Wieren, T., Ferrell, D. R., Swiss, L., & Dugan, C. (2010). Exploring barriers to college student use of disability services and accommodations. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 22(3), 151-165.
10. Newman, L. A., Madaus, J. W., Javitz, H. S. (2016). Effect of transition planning on postsecondary support receipt by students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82(4), 497-514. doi: 10.1177/0014402915615884.
11. Mamiseishvili, K., & Koch, L. C. (2011). First-to-second-year persistence of students with disabilities in postsecondary institutions in the United States. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 54(2), 93-105. doi: 10.1177/0034355210382580.
12. Raue, K., & Lewis, L. (2011). Students with disabilities at degree-granting postsecondary institutions: First look. (NCES 2011–018). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
13. Ibid.
14. Association on Higher Education and Disability (2012). Supporting accommodation requests: Guidance on documentation practices.
15. Hudson, R. L. (2013). The effect of disability disclosure on the graduation rates of college students with disabilities (Doctoral dissertation).
16. Lightner, K. L., Kipps-Vaughan, D., Schulte, T., & Trice, A. D. (2012). Reasons university students with a learning disability wait to seek disability services. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 25(1), 145-159.
17. Troiano, P. F., Liefeld, J. A., & Trachtenberg, J. V. (2010). Academic support and college success for postsecondary students with learning disabilities. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 40(2), 35-44. doi: 10.1080/10790195.2010.10850329.
18. DuPaul, G., Dahlstrom-Hakki, I., Gormley, M., Fu, Q., Pinho, T., & Banerjee, M. (in press). College students with ADHD and LD: Effects of support services on academic performance. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice.
19. Madaus, J., Gerber, P., & Price, L. (2008). Adults with learning disabilities in the workforce: Lessons for secondary transition programs. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 23(3), 148-153. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5826.2008.00272.x.
20. Kaye, H.S. (2013). Unpublished data analysis of 2010 data from the U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation. Data retrieved August 2013.
21. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2013). Time for the U.S. to Reskill?: What the survey of adults says. OECD Skills Studies, OECD Publishing. doi: 10.1787/9789264204904-en.
22. Madaus, J. W. (2006). Employment outcomes of university graduates with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 29, Winter, 19-31.
23. Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A., Marder, C., Nagle, K. Shaver, D., & Wei, X. (2011). The Post-High School Outcomes of Young Adults With Disabilities up to 8 Years After High School: A Report From the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (NCSER 2011-3005). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
24. Price, L. A., Gerber, P. J., Mulligan, R. (2007). Adults with learning disabilities and the underutilization of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Remedial and Special Education, 28(6), 340-344.
25. National Research Council (2012). Improving adult literacy instruction: Options for practice and research. Committee on Learning Sciences: Foundations and Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Lesgold, A. M., & Welch-Ross, M. (Eds.) Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
26. National Center for Learning Disabilities (2015). Student voices: A study of young adults with learning and attention issues – Executive summary. New York: National Center for Learning Disabilities.
27. Ibid.
28. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (no date). Transition planning for students with disabilities.
29. Newman, L. A., Madaus, J. W., Javitz, H. S. (2016). Effect of transition planning on postsecondary support receipt by students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82(4), 497-514. doi: 10.1177/0014402915615884.
30. Wagner, M. M., Newman, L. A., & Javitz, H. S. (2016). The benefits of high school career and technical education (CTE) for youth with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 49(6), 658-670. doi: 10.1177/0022219415574774.
31. Texas Education Agency (2014). The dyslexia handbook: Procedures concerning dyslexia and related disorders. Austin, TX.
32. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (2017). A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities. Washington, D.C.
33. College Board (2016, December 01). College Board simplifies process for test accommodations.
34. ACT (2016, May 24). ACT announces improvements to the ACT test accommodations system.
35. ACT (2016). Policy for documentation.
36. GED Testing Service (no date). Documentation guidelines for GED testing service test accommodations (reasonable adjustments).
37. The WIOA replaced the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

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