Learning disabilities don’t magically disappear with a high school diploma, but an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) does. For learning disabled (LD) students, moving on to college or postsecondary school can post new obstacles.
The IEP that protects students with disabilities throughout their school years is no longer valid once they reach post-secondary education. And when a child turns 18, parents no longer are the legal decision-makers regarding their child’s education, which can create new frustrations for parents. A little self-advocacy and information can help families navigate the post-secondary transition.
“A big part of moving from high school to college is for [students] to really understand and be empowered by the relationship with the disability resource center,” says Abbey Ross, executive director of Scottsdale-based Bridgeway Transitional Program, which was developed to help students and parents with the transition from high school to college or vocational school. Bridgeway works directly with the schools to ensure that students are in the right setting for success.
Colleges aren’t required to offer the resources typically available at the high school level, says Debi Moser, director of disability resources at Scottsdale Community College (SCC). High schools are required by law to offer accommodations like extended time to complete assignments or tests, shortened assignments, open-note or open-book exams and extended homework time as specified in a student’s IEP. These options aren’t available to students in college unless they are offered to the entire class.
However, LD students can qualify for accommodations that include readers, note-takers and testing in the resource center. At SCC, the resource center provides access to advisors, financial aid and tutoring in English, reading and math. The center works collaboratively with other tutoring centers on campus.
To qualify for services, evidence of a diagnosis must be on file with the disability resource center. Typically, IEPs do not provide a formal diagnosis, such as dyslexia, that impacts the student’s education. Other paperwork from the high school can be forwarded, with a signed release, to the college’s disability resource center. Following up to speak with an advisor is critical.
“We look at everything that the student brings in and have a conversation with each of them to find out what was effective in high school and what wasn’t,” Moser says. Information gathered can determine what accommodations will be made to give a student equal access to learning. “Our goal is to integrate our students [so they] have the same experiences that all students have,” she says.
Starting college can be intimidating, but for a student with a learning disability it can be completely overwhelming. Bridgeway teaches students coping skills for that first day of class and follows students throughout their experience to coach and coax along the way.
“Students with learning differences need systems of support to remain in place so that they can be successful,” says Ross. “It’s not that they academically can’t achieve their goals, but they need a little more, maybe some non-traditional systems of support.”