Higher Education Overview

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Higher Education Overview

by Karen Lerner
Special Education Teacher, School Administrator, And Educational Therapist

In my job as a case manager at a college coaching and counseling center, I work exclusively with students who are plagued with either challenges stemming from academic deficits, or, more often, challenges due to lack of executive functioning strategies or skills.  Every year I witness institutional changes for these students in their pursuit of higher education, from light alterations in a specific college program to huge shifts in who can receive testing accommodations on college entrance exams.

Some concepts in this field to be aware of:

  1. Both the College Board (that gives us the SAT) and the ACT have recently streamlined their procedures to process requests for testing accommodations. In the past, a student would need to submit a specific application, including a diagnosis from a credentialed professional who could support that diagnosis, updated assessments, plus a developmental, medical and educational history.  In addition, a school usually had to explain that the student was either using the requested accommodations (like extra time) already, or give a reason why the accommodations were not being implemented.  Recently that process has become easier for students already on an IEP or 504 plan.  Now the district documentation is generally accepted without supplying a lot of extra paper work.  However, if the student does not have an IEP or 504 inforce, then it is helpful to either speak with the SSD Coordinator at the student’s current high school, or familiarize yourself with the section on testing accommodations on either the SAT or ACT website.  Finally, this is one of those experiences where it pays to be proactive, since the turn-around time can be 7-8 weeks from submission of the request to having it granted.
  2. There are many students that lack the maturity, motivation or, simply, a good reason to be applying to a college or a university right after high school. A neuro-typical student might not have a clear direction of study, but usually college-bound students have the basic skills to work independently, even if there are some glitches in their skills or work habits.  However, a student who is already struggling in school might require more time to work on some of these basic skills.  We are fond of suggesting a gap year experience, such as a year to volunteer or work, to become more accountable, have realistic peer interactions in the work place, and just get some distance from the stress and/or anxiety of tests and judgements often found in the school experience.  Often that year off yields a solid reason for that student to now attend college.
  3. For some students who are more concrete and less abstract in their thinking, we suggest that they explore the idea of attending a professional school after high school. College usually involves breath requirements and upper division course work, which can tax higher-level thinking.  If a student does not operate on this level, or avoids work that is not of personal interest, then college is usually not going to be a good fit.  However, many high school students have a demonstrated interest, talent or passion, and if one can be identified, often this leads to a job, career, or a skill that will then connect to higher education when the student is more mature, motivated and confident.  Remember that only in college do we allow students so much autonomy, as well as the need to be educational generalists for at least the first two years.  After college, most of us have bosses, supervision of some sort, and specific schedules that encompass more than a few hours of each day. We also delve into one field, interest or activity. However, when students are still rather young, they are expected to do it all and figure out when to get it done.
  4. Colleges and universities are categorized into three tiers of special education services:
    1. Tier One Schools are any schools receiving federal dollars, and therefore have to offer basic services for students who need access to the curriculum. These schools often have writing centers for anyone who needs extra support, tutoring services, disability service centers for those who have appropriate documentation for extended time on tests, separate testing space, assistive technology support, etc.
    2. Tier Two Schools usually have specific courses and programs (often for an additional fee) where students get extra support on curriculum, study skills, test taking strategies, or entire courses geared for divergent learners.
    3. Tier Three Schools are created with a mission to educate students with various diagnoses, such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Autism Spectrum, etc. These schools will embed the educational delivery into every aspect of a student’s school day, not only academically, but also socially and emotionally.
  5. As an educational therapist, I work with students who struggle due to their executive functioning deficits, not their cognitive abilities. Remember that students who drop out of college originally got into college!  The inability to plan, initiate and persist in getting work completed is often at the root of academic failure.  Time management is a huge factor in having enough time to get work completed, while also enjoying the many wonderful aspects of a college community.  Students who possess these deficits usually are practiced in avoidance behaviors, relying heavily on others managing their time while still in high school.  There also are students who lack flexibility, problem-solving behaviors, or advocacy skills.  These students require another person to support them and make them accountable for their college experience if they are going to be successful with all the known and unknown situations they will encounter.  When we pair one of these students with an academic coach or an educational therapist (depending on the specific needs of the student) we usually see positive results.


TCB’s The Resource, Fall 2017


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