Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Postsecondary Education for Students with Learning Disabilities: A Synthesis of the Literature

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Postsecondary Education for Students with Learning Disabilities: A Synthesis of the Literature

Article excerpt

In recent years there has been an increasing interest in programs and services for students with disabilities who are attending postsecondary institutions (Ganschow, Coyne, Parks, & Antonoff, 1999; Mangrum & Strichart, 1992; National Center for Education Statistics, 1999; Vogel & Adelman, 1993). The number of college freshmen with learning disabilities has increased tenfold since 1976, resulting in this group becoming the fastest growing group of college students with disabilities receiving services (Norlander, Shaw, & McGuire, 1990). In 1986, 29% of persons 16 years of age or older with a disability had enrolled in postsecondary education, in contrast to 45% in 1994 (18th Annual Report to Congress, 1996; Thomas, 2000). In 1996, 6% to 9% of all undergraduate students reported having a disability (Henderson, 1998; National Center for Education Statistics, 1996), with learning disability (LD) the most prevalent disability reported (29% to 35% of those reporting a disability).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA) and the IDEA Amendments of 1997 include postsecondary education as a major postschool outcome. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) mandate accessibility to postsecondary education for students with disabilities. Although the number of students with learning disabilities attending college has risen, they are still less likely than their nondisabled peers to attend college (Greenbaum, Graham, & Scales, 1995; Murray, Goldstein, Nourse, & Edgar, 2000; Vogel & Adelman, 1993). In 1994 (and again in 1999) the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD) expressed concern that many students with learning disabilities do not consider postsecondary options. This has been supported by a number of studies of the adult adjustment of individuals with learning disabilities (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Fairweather & Shaver, 1991; Levine & Nourse, 1998; National Center for Education Statistics, 1994b; Sitlington, Frank, & Carson, 1992; Wagner, D'Amico, Marder, Newman, & Blackorby, 1992).

In addition, there is evidence suggesting that many students with disabilities who enroll in postsecondary institutions have difficulty completing their postsecondary programs. The National Center for Education Statistics (1994a) found that 52% of students with learning disabilities versus 64% of students without disabilities attained their target degree or were still enrolled. Murray et al. (2000) found that of the students with learning disabilities who had attended postsecondary education institutions, 80% had not been graduated 5 years after high school, compared to 56% of youth with no disabilities. Ten years after graduating from high school, 56% of youth with learning disabilities had not been graduated from postsecondary education, compared to 32% of individuals without disabilities.

Vogel et al. (1998) surveyed a national sample of 502 postsecondary institutions drawn randomly from lists of institutions divided by Carnegie classification, in proportion to the number of institutions in each classification. Findings from the 30% who responded indicated that the proportion of students with learning disabilities ranged from .5% to almost 10%. The factors that had a significant impact on the proportion of students with learning disabilities and the type and range of services offered were size of the student body, the type of institution, the institution's Carnegie classification, and whether the institution offered graduate degree programs.


The Guckenberger v. Boston University case (1997) brought to the forefront the legal requirements of responding to requests for reasonable accommodations (Elswit, Geetter, & Goldberg, 1999; Wolinsky & Whelan, 1999). The following provides a brief overview of the legal issues related to individuals with disabilities in postsecondary institutions. …

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