If your child has a learning disability, finding a good college match can be a huge undertaking.
Not only are you concerned about finding a school that has the right majors, the right teachers, the right type of campus, the right student body and the right activities, but you are looking beyond that to find the school that has the right disabilities program and a broad disabilities awareness, as well.
One of the reasons finding a good college match can seem so complicated is because college disability support offices are not regulated in the same way as high school disability programs.
While in public school, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the regulatory body. In college, IDEA is replaced with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a United States federal law that governs how and what programs or services are provided to children with disabilities while in high school. Whereas, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an unfunded federal mandate that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
The relevance of this distinction recently was explained by Kendra Johnson, advocate for promoting college access for students with disabilities, during a webinar on College Planning for Students with Disabilities. Johnson stated that the goal of IDEA is "to maximize student success to the fullest extent possible" in high school, whereas the goal of ADA is to "provide an equal opportunity to participate" in college.
The ADA is not specific to education only, and does not govern the types of programs or services as the IDEA does. Because of this, the services and support offered at one college can be very different than those offered at another.
Some colleges may have no formal policies or procedures when it comes to LD services. Others may have trained specialists, professional tutors and other assistance programs that go well beyond what the law requires.
As with any student with special needs, a student with disabilities needs more detailed information about admissions guidelines and campus services than what usually is offered through the college view book.
For instance, it often comes to a surprise to parents and students that 504 Plans and IEPs do not apply in college. Most college disability offices will look at them, but are not required to follow them. Most admissions offices will not look at them and will not consider waiving admissions criteria because of them.
My best advice is to do diligent research on the colleges you are interested in and talk with someone from the disabilities or accommodations office. There is not a "one size fits all" when it comes to a student's needs.
What may be great disability support for one student may not be as useful for another. The first step to determining the quality of a disability program is by understanding what is necessary and effective for you.
Here are some resources that you may want to check out as you begin your college planning: "K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Disabilities" by M. Kravets and I. Wax (2010); "Learning Outside the Lines: Two Ivy League Students with Learning Disabilities Give You the Tools for Academic Success and Educational Revolution" by J. Mooney, D. Cole and E. Hallowell (2000); and "Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD" by Peterson's (2007).
Bonner is an educational consultant at Bonner Educational Consulting. She has worked in college admissions in Colorado and Pennsylvania.
Her practice is in the Williamsport area and can be found online at www.bonneredu.com and on Facebook and Twitter. To reach Bonner directly, email aurora @bonneredu.com.