Contributed by Beth Allingham, Educational Support Coordinator, San Francisco Waldorf School
Download this comprehensive report as a PDF document here.
Elizabeth Stone, PhD., spoke engagingly on choosing colleges for students with learning differences. The event was attended by a standing-room-only crowd of over 100 at the Exploratorium. Attendees came from as far away as Los Angeles.
Elizabeth is an educational consultant in private practice, who studied at UC Berkeley. She titled this talk Beyond Disabled Student Services to address issues that you can’t read about in publications about learning-different students and college.
She began by stating that all students have some stress in college. The focus here is on students who have more stress than that. It may be time to start thinking about our learning-different students in a different way. Often these students have had four years of tutors, extended time, having SAT’s read to them, among other accommodations. These students are tired! What college environments are a great fit for these students so they can require less of that type of support? These options may not be in a book about learning support. They may also be best for the bright student who doesn’t learn in the traditional way.
Budget cuts have greatly impacted resources for students who need extra support.
We should expect that different students will need different paths; yet they (and their parents) fear that if they don’t make the right choice, their life is over. Elizabeth Stone stresses in her practice that “brand-name-schools” are not the only colleges; it’s more important to focus on what makes the student successful! What we want to avoid is anyone becoming a failing student at a highly-ranked school because they thought it was important to place themselves in that environment.
Some students have high test scores and low grades. Colleges are reluctant to take these because the grades are a better predictor of how the student will do in college.
AP courses present problems for all HS students, as they are designed for the college student, but especially Learning-Different students.
Elizabeth listed certain colleges for consideration and the philosophy of each. The first group includes those that are inclusive for all students.
Internships, coops or top-down programs.
- Champlain – an example of a top-down program: rather than take classes and then put what is learned into practice, each student begins as an intern at the start of the freshman year, which helps their students make the connections between work and classes early on; all intern while they’re taking classes. The Life skills curriculum is required of all students and includes: financial management, social cognition, independent living, resume and job skills, roommate issues.
- Bennington, VT, has annual internships of 2 months; they take a long winter break because it is so cold there in the winter.
- Northeastern, MA: their co-op program is their specialty.
- Canadian colleges have some programs like this.
Work colleges: every student must have a job so that the college can function; this works well for students who need a lot of structure in their day.
- Warren Wilson, NC. There are jobs from welding to accounting; students are organized into work crews, and work their way up to being supervisor. They learn how to take direction and how to lead, plus vocational skills.
- Sterling College, VT. Farm jobs, cleaning, waiting for pigs to be born. Environmental sciences-related positions.
- Some parents think if their kids are not good at academics that art schools will be an option; but art schools are tough; they are not for students who don’t have strong egos; students need to be able to take critique, be independent, and work long hours; there are few boundaries at these colleges, so students could work too many hours; this is not for the student who doesn’t want to hear their painting is no good. Housing, counseling, supervision, and financial aid are often scarce.
- At least one art college is losing financial aid funding because their grad rate was so low!! Pay attention to retention and grad rates!!
Vocational programs: these can be great, practical programs, and the student may make more money than students who follow a liberal arts path. They need to get over the fact that there won’t be a football team on their campus. Some of these campuses have dorms, and a more traditional feel to the campus; usually the student will earn an AA degree or certificate rather than a BA or BS. Typical fields include: crafts, welding, auto mechanics, machinery, EMT, and culinary.
New England Culinary Academy – Here the focus is on the team approach; there are lots of internships and travel; this program is intense and needs self-motivated students who expect lots of physical work.
North Bennett School – a jewelry program with 150 students; there is no dorm available.
Integrating mind and body
Boss, the Boulder Outdoor Survival School; the program teaches traditional living skills/survival; in conjunction with Western State, Colorado University; the program involves physical activity with a sense of place and purpose, and is for kids who are very physical.
Naropa, Buddhist-based curriculum; contemplative practice is part of the curriculum.
These offer personal attention. They may offer few majors. Students interested in these colleges might consider a summer program to try out the campus; there may not be a traditional student services program but rely on faculty-student interaction; these are great for students who need lots of one-on-one attention. Some examples:
Marlboro (300 students) The student government makes the rules. It looks like a summer camp, yet is quite academic.
Southern Vermont (550 students) is less academic.
Chester, NH (166 students) Offers creative writing, art, liberal arts.
Olin College of Engineering (308 students) A highly selective college of engineering.
Bard College at Simon’s Rock (400 students) The student can enter while still in High School, so there are counseling services for the younger students.
Sierra Nevada College, CA (500 students) Near Lake Tahoe.
College of the Atlantic (325 students) One major: Human Ecology.
Some colleges offer programs for students on the autism spectrum and will charge a Fee for service. These include: Eastern MI, Adelphi, Marshall, West Virginia, Fairleigh-Dickinson, Mercyhurst, Rutgers, NJ, U of Arkansas, U of Alabama. It may cost from $2000-8500 extra per semester, which pays for extra work on independent living skills and mentoring.
Traditional, extensive programs with resource centers for LD students:
Curry, University of Connecticut, College of Charleston, Landmark, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Dean, Mitchell, Regis, CO ( which has a “Commitment Program” for students who can’t get in under regular admissions; U of VT has a similar program to Regis; Southern Oregon U (27 students); St Mary’s College of California. What always important to ask about these programs is, what is their retention rate?
Parents and students need to ask a college tough questions like: How hard is it for students to get tutoring, mentoring, is it only for freshman English or is something provided beyond that? More and more colleges are being accommodating about foreign language, and more are accepting American Sign Language; but more colleges have requirements once the student arrives. At the College of Charleston, a student can substitute a Spanish culture course; at Chapman too.
Lots of colleges have no math requirement. Schools that have no or few “distribution requirements”: Hampshire, Brown, Sarah Lawrence, Bennington. Evergreen State College, though the program system is innovative, may not be such a great place for a student with LD, unless he or she is quite independent and loves to write.
Fairtest.org list includes colleges that are test-optional for admissions. Many of these have portfolio paths as alternatives to SAT or ACT scores and some allow the student to submit subject test scores or partial test scores: Lewis and Clark College, OR; Franklin and Marshall; Western State Colorado; Pitzer, Dalhousie, CSU, U of Alabama, WA State, American University; Bates, and others.
High Schools with no AP – A parent asked, are those students at a disadvantage? Students are looked at in the context of what the school offers; E. Stone not a fan of AP, since it must be taught from a “cookbook”. High Schools that have dropped senior level courses in favor of AP are now teaching little writing or reading, or independent thinking.
Applications – Parents and students must always consider how much debt they may need to take on, vs. the value of the Liberal arts degree. College is not for everyone.
- A vocational program can be an excellent way to give a student independence, a way to earn money and learning beyond high school.
- Remember that the purpose of going to college is not just to train you for a career; it is to train the student with reading, writing and thinking skills for jobs that might not even exist yet.
Consider a 2-yr program at a 4-year campus:
Santa Barbara City College;
Eastern Maine Community College;
Southern New Hampshire
Montana State, Billings
Western New England
Marymount College, Palos Verdes
University of Hawaii, Maui campus
Community college not a good place for a student who does not know what they want to do, though they are a way to get around the SAT.
- Unless you are working backwards (considering a college where they know they want to be) transfer is exceedingly difficult;
- Students may take transferable credits but not the prerequisites for the program they want.
- Often there is not enough advising or course offerings.
- Better if they don’t live at home, as they can become disconnected from advising a study opportunities.
- Some 4-year colleges have dorms with freshman seminars organized by dorm.
- Most revealing statistic: the grad rate at cc is 15%.
||Don’t discount colleges you’ve never heard of
|Think about learning style
||Don’t limit your students options by your biases
|Be a good listener
||Don’t take your child to visit potential schools until you know their academic record