College Students with Learning Disabilities Speak Out: What It Takes to Be Successful in Postsecondary Education


The purpose of this study was to identify variables that facilitate the academic success of college students with learning disabilities. Twenty recent college graduates with documented learning disabilities were interviewed using a semi-structured format. An analysis of the transcripts of the interviews revealed eight common themes, many of which were consistent with previous research. The themes included (a) the importance of knowledge of one’s disability and concomitant accommodations; (b) limited explanation of results of pyschoeducational evaluations; (c) a dearth of information relating to disability law; (d) the importance of self-advocacy; (e) the significance of accommodations and course alternatives; (f) the importance of support systems; (g) the recognition of the need to persevere under challenging circumstances; and (h) the positive effects of goal-setting. Implications of these results are discussed in relation to characteristics of educational programming that facilitate success among students with specific learning disabilities in postsecondary settings. Erin sat in her graduation regalia waiting patiently for her name to be called to receive her long-awaited college diploma. In many ways, the thoughts going through her mind were identical to those of her classmates: excitement, relief, pride, and an eager anticipation of the future. However, Erin was also experiencing many emotions that only her fellow students with learning disabilities could understand. She vividly recalled the frustration she had felt when making the transition from a high school system where all of her educational programming was prescribed by law and structured for her by teachers and parents, to the college setting where SHE was responsible for advocating for herself. She recalled the anger she had felt toward a high school experience that failed to prepare her for the strange new world college presented for a student with a learning disability. No teacher, counselor, or psychologist had ever discussed her specific weaknesses with her. Nor had school personnel described the laws that apply to students with disabilities after they leave the structured confines of public education. Furthermore, Erin hadn’t had a clue as to the academic accommodations available to her. She remembered hearing about the section of Spanish modified for students with learning disabilities only AFTER she had failed the course in her first semester as a freshman. She also remembered how her trip to Disability Services changed her life. Gradually, with the assistance of DS, Erin learned the art of self-determination. Armed with proper documentation and support from DS personnel, Erin gradually gained the confidence she needed to discuss her learning needs with professors and request legitimate accommodations. Erin also remembered the unwavering support from her family and her friends in the LD support group. But, most of all, Erin realized that her success was due to her perseverance, reflected in her willingness to spend large amounts of time studying, often while other students were socializing. Suddenly, Erin heard her name called. Her thoughts immediately reverted back to the commencement ceremony. She proudly accepted her diploma, waved to her family in the audience, and walked off of the stage, confident in the belief that the skills, knowledge, and self-determination she had acquired in college would serve her well in the future. Erin’s story is a common one. College-bound students with learning disabilities (LD) are frequently unprepared for the challenges presented by higher education. Murray, Goldstein, Nourse, and Edgar (2000), for example, found that 80% of students with LD enrolled in postsecondary education had not graduated five years after completing high school. This compared to a nongraduation rate for students without LD of only 56%. Despite the problems students with LD are likely to encounter in postsecondary programs, the number of students with learning disabilities enrolled in postsecondary institutions has increased dramatically over the past 25

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@inproceedings{Skinner2009CollegeSW, title={College Students with Learning Disabilities Speak Out: What It Takes to Be Successful in Postsecondary Education}, author={Michael E G Skinner}, year={2009} }