BY the time students arrive at Landmark College, they've often
flunked out of other colleges or universities. Many remember years
of being labeled slow or unteachable.
But at this small school, terraced into a hillside above this
southern Vermont town, such "learning-disabled" students get
another try at academic success.
The academic rehabilitation that goes on here reflects a larger
phenomenon in American higher education: the effort to open college
doors to students with learning disabilities, such as problems with
reading and focusing attention on academic tasks.
Prompted by federal legislation and the threat of losing federal
funding, many colleges in recent years have instituted programs to
help such students. According to Keith Lenz, of the Center for
Research on Learning at the University of Kansas, this is "probably
one of the fastest growing areas on campus now."
But the effort has not been without controversy. A few
institutions, notably Boston University, have decided to scale back
programs aimed at the learning disabled, voicing concerns about
fraudulent claims for special treatment.
Landmark stands apart from such controversies. To begin with,
its student body is entirely made up of individuals with learning
problems - which probably makes it unique, according to Mr. Lenz
and other experts. Its goal is to enable students to operate at the
college level without special aids, like note-takers or special
Landmark offers a two-year associate's degree, but many of its
240 students move on in less than two years. Some also stay longer.
The college just completed 10 years of operation and is
accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
While Landmark students have to have been diagnosed with a
learning disability, admission requirements also include "average
to superior intellectual potential." The school's specific mission
is academic success at the college level.
The college surveyed former students by mail last year and found
that 88 percent of the 426 who responded had gone on to complete
other kinds of college work, mostly at four-year institutions. That
contrasts with other programs designed to prepare learning-disabled
students only for "independent adulthood" through apartment living,
money-management training, and vocational education, for example.
Landmark's curriculum includes literature, math, and other
liberal arts, as well as an array of noncredit offerings in basic
study and organizational skills. One-on-one tutorials are part of
every student's schedule.
Most of the students here made their way through high school
with passing grades, often concocting unorthodox ways of culling
classroom information that others get through reading. But in the
unfamiliar, often impersonal setting of a large college, that
ability to improvise and squeak through can evaporate.
Elizabeth Lavine, a Landmark alumna who now attends the
University of Vermont (UVM), in Burlington, finished the 12th grade
without being diagnosed as having a learning problem and was
admitted to Ohio State University. There, she was soon overwhelmed
by large lecture courses and flunked out. After that experience,
she underwent testing that indicated a learning disability.
This pattern is not uncommon, notes Dr. Lenz. Most students with
learning problems don't go on to college, he says, but those who do
aim for higher education are usually motivated and bright. …