How do colleges help with learning disabilities?

Posted at 8:00 AM, Mar 12, 2016

CINCINNATI -- Some of the best and brightest among us have a diagnosed learning disability, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia or dyspraxia. Federal law mandates that public schools make accommodations for children with learning disabilities, offering them individualized education programs (IEPs) tailored for their success in school.

College, however, is a different game.

Jim Muenchen, head of special education at La Salle High School, pointed out the difference.

“One of the key things I learned early is that colleges are not bound by IEPs,” he said. “They don’t have to follow the state-mandated (rules). In high school, when a student has an IEP, that’s a legal document, and the schools are bound to follow that document. In college, that’s not true.

“Different colleges have different levels of services available,” he said.

One result: Many kids who got support in high school stop getting help when they go on to college. According to a report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “Only 17 percent of young adults with [learning disabilities] received accommodations and supports in postsecondary education because of their disability, compared to 94 percent in high school.”

In order to help students and parents be informed about support available to them, on March 15 Muenchen and colleagues at La Salle will offer “College Night” for students with learning disabilities, an event the all-male prep school has hosted for most of the past 20 years.

It’s free and open to the public, and no registration is required. Representatives from 11 area colleges and universities will be on hand to explain their learning disability programs.

Participating schools are: Miami University, Xavier University, Thomas More College, Northern Kentucky University, Mount St. Joseph University, University of Cincinnati, University of Dayton, Wright State University, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Muskingham University and Defiance College.

Stacy Mueller of Mount St. Joseph University will deliver opening remarks. The director of Mount St. Joseph’s Project Excel, a specialized program for students with learning disabilities, Mueller said she will offer guidelines for a successful transition to college, discussing topics such as the difference between the ACT and SAT exams, the importance of a student learning to advocate for himself or herself, and ways that college will be different from high school.

Following Mueller’s presentation, participants will have time to visit with three college representatives before closing remarks and a general question-and-answer session.

Describing Project Excel, Mueller said, “Any university would have (some) accommodations, but we provide additional supports for students, such as coaching for time management and organization. (Students) meet with someone in our program one-on-one for an hour each week and go through all the syllabi, arrange their assignments, check in on how they’re doing on multi-step projects, and they also cover study skills, help with advising, picking the right courses and professors. We have usually around 19 professional tutors … and so they go over the content as well as learning strategies. Students typically meet for an hour each week with a tutor per course.”

At different schools, she said, “there are different models of support for students. Ours would be considered the most supportive.”

“For all students that might have some diagnosed disability,” Mueller said, “I see more and more of them coming to college. I think at one time, historically, because of messages students received somewhere in the educational system or elsewhere, that they didn’t necessarily think of themselves as a candidate for college. And I really see that barrier being reduced a great deal.”

Muenchen agreed. “All universities are fighting for quality students,” he said. “And students with learning disabilities will fall into that category of quality students. (Schools) want to make it more attractive to them, so I think more and more colleges are providing at least some level of assistance.”

If You Go

  • What: College Night for Students With Disabilities
  • When: Tuesday, March 15; 7 to 9 p.m.
  • Where: La Salle High School Media Center, 3091 North Bend Road, Cincinnati 45239
  • More information: 513-741-2305
  • Details: Free, open to the public, no registration required