By Marianna Sorensen
College Magazine
March 16, 2016

Does your school care about your ADHD? As it turns out, it might not. While 86 percent of colleges enroll students with learning disabilities, only 24 percent of them say they can actually help those students “to a major extent.” I may be bad at math, but I’m pretty sure those numbers are off. Some colleges and universities have set out to set those numbers straight. These 10 colleges are leading the charge.


Marist College in New York offers a program that helps students academically, but also teaches them how to advocate for themselves and their disabilities. They provide students with a learning disability specialist who gives guidance on college life and all those awkward social changes that come with freshman year. Students even get to join in on events that raise awareness about disabilities including this year’s developmental basketball clinic, a fundraiser for the center. If you make real waves in raising awareness, you get a certificate and a luncheon in your honor. They’re not messing around at Marist.


UConn’s Center for Students with Disabilities sets out to ensure that students with disabilities have the “same access to programs, opportunities and activities as all others.” Taking a holistic approach to disabilities tutoring, CSD offers a wide range of subjects, from study skills to networking to how to best use technology for studying. The entire world could use a course in that last one. It might have helped that time I had to retake that Harry Potter Sporcle quiz three times until I got Hermione, but still didn’t know what mitosis was for my bio quiz the next day.


Lynn University in Florida recognizes that learning disabilities are not elastic waistbands: one size does not fit all. They base their mission on the fact that all students have their own strengths and weaknesses, and their program works to help students discover those for themselves. They give students independence early on. Keep in mind that of 67 percent of students who pursue a degree after high school, only 24 percent of them disclose their disability with the university. Self-advocacy and independence is the first step towards success in the world outside school, and Lynn University totally gets it. They offer one-on-one tutoring, coaching and a testing center. Although “testing center” sounds like a personal hell, it’s actually paradise for students who need help with tests. Instead of cherubs and harps they just get… readers or scribes. Still good though.


Northeastern’s applications and interviews make its Learning Disabilities Program a bit more selective than most. But the lucky 45 students who make it through the gauntlet gain access to incredible resources: biweekly meetings with an LDP specialist to help with academic struggles like test-taking strategies and time management. They offer support with life skills like setting reasonable goals and monitoring student’s progress. The specialist even works with the student on maintaining motivation and moving past those challenges. With your very own cheerleader and coach on your side, success is inevitable.


Transitioning from high school to college is tough: We all remember that awkward first week in the Big Leagues when you have to get up five minutes into your first class after realizing you’re in the wrong room. To help avoid that nightmare, American University offers its Learning Services Program to smooth out the change for freshmen with learning disabilities. These services include an upperclassman LSP mentor for the social side of things. Rounding out the academic side, LSP mentors hold weekly meetings with a writing mentor and assistive technology and students even have a specialized writing class. “The program is designed for first-year students who have language-based learning disabilities and is designed to give these students the extra support they need,” said Deborah Demille-Wagman, Director of Academic and Disability Support. But after the year’s over, they don’t just throw them to the sophomoric wolves; the Academic Support and Access Center steps in for upperclassmen with learning accommodations, offering a study skills workshop and ASAC counselors. On top of that, they help students tame the scariest beast of all: connecting with employers and internships. “American University is committed to supporting a diverse student population, including those with disabilities,” said Demille-Wagman.  


The University of Iowa offers the Realizing Educational and Career Hopes program–or REACH–to assist in everything from campus life to academics to career advice. REACH specializes in helping students who are coming from special education. “REACH fulfills the special needs of special people,” said Dr. Pamela Ries, Director of the program. And she understands how unique students’ experiences can be. “We help students become as independent as they can become, which means different things for different students.” Their students in the REACH program all live in the same dorm–where traditional students live as well–and receive extra support for trained RAs. Students in the REACH program are also provided with opportunities to complete internships in the community, and a “same-age peer” that can help introduce them into groups on campus. Students even create a portfolio of work about their transition into college. It’s no wonder they call it REACH–students can actually reach their goals.


With a student to faculty ration of only 11:1, no student goes without an individual support system tailored to his or her learning style. Those with language-based learning disabilities can turn to Curry’s Program for Advancement of Learning (PAL) for courses in skills that’ll help them in their other classes. These can range from identifying what learning strategies work for them, to more complex skills like how to communicate better and strengthen relationships with those around them. Students in the program meet with their own learning specialist, one of the professors, for 2.5 hours each week. “These faculty members devote careers to the research, theory, and practice of supporting students with learning disabilities and attention deficit,” said Laura Vanderberg, Director of PAL. The  program also offers workshops and online programs. The program works on the strategies for learning but to also know when strategies will actually help, or when other methods need to be used, Vanderberg said. PAL also offers a summer program for entering freshmen that includes trips to areas around Boston. You get to learn more and explore.


The University of Arizona has the widely acclaimed Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques center.  They provide support across the spectrum, from tutors to top-of-the-line technology to in-house psychological counseling. They also provide a Strategic Learning Specialist who creates a learning plan for each student individually. Part of what makes the SALT center so impressive is their expansive set-up. Their Life and ADHD counseling can help students who aren’t even in the area. Their coaches work with students all over the country and even the world via phone and email. “We give direct support to the enhancement of learning. Our mission is above and beyond requirements,” said Rudy Molina Jr., Director of the SALT center. “We built a culture of acceptance and we have many years behind us.” Life coaches–academic ones as well–work with college students on skills like keeping a balanced diet and studying at optimal hours. They help high school students work on building maturity, which proves that these people aren’t just education professionals–they actually care about their students.


Beacon College in Florida’s attentiveness to students’ needs creates an environment particularly accommodating for students with learning disabilities. You’ll never find a class larger than 15 people, and the administration provides one-on-one coaching and printed lecture notes. Students live on campus and participate in community bonding activities, but they are also assigned life coaches to provide support on more than just academic matters. “Beacon College belongs on the list because the school is the first accredited higher education institution to award bachelor’s degrees exclusively to students with learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders, and not only provides built-in support to backstop students’ effort to achieve their scholastic goals, but also, in this age of increasing accountability, delivers results,” said Darryl Owens, Beacon’s Director of Communications. “According the U.S. Department of Education, 83 percent of Beacon students graduate and 83 percent earn jobs or pursue post-graduate work. Difficult to argue with those outcomes,” Owens said.


The founders of Vermont’s Landmark College designed their institution specifically for students with learning disabilities. One of Landmark’s catchphrases is “We learn differently.” Administrators recognize this, so professors teach differently. One small example is the act of passing out squeeze balls before class to help students focus. “Landmark College holds a unique space in the arena of postsecondary education. You feel it the minute you set foot on campus,” said Manju Banerjee, Vice President and Director of the Landmark College Institute for Research and Training. “Really, what makes this place different are the relationships between people that create a space where students once again discover what it means to want to learn.” This is an environment where the stigma of learning disabilities is severely lessened: 40 percent of learning-disabled students successfully complete post-secondary programs, and 80 percent of students graduating from Landmark’s two-year program go on to get a bachelor’s degree. Keep up the incredible impact, Landmark.