Guest post by Luana E. Fahr, M.S. Ed, LDT-C
When students consider postsecondary education, they wonder anxiously if they will ever be able to persist to graduation. The questions that go through minds of college-bound students often include: Should I even go to college? If I go to college, will I ever graduate? Are there support programs that can assist me?
In addition to these questions, students with disabilities have many other questions, including whether or not they will have academic adjustments in college, or if there are people and assistive technologies to support their learning differences. Will they receive the accommodations and modifications that they received in their previous years of schooling?
Often, students begin their journey in community colleges to explore their questions without incurring the expense of a four-year institution. There are, however, traditional institutions that provide tutoring and coaching models that have been proven to be very successful in both retention and graduation rates of students with learning and other disabilities that impact academic performance. Under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), most colleges and universities must provide academic accommodations for students. The question remains, however, if students perform better with support beyond ADA accommodations.
EXPLORING THE LEARNING CONNECTION
At Georgian Court University, we have found that supporting students with disabilities in a holistic manner greatly improves the retention and graduation of students with learning disabilities, and other conditions such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, psychological, and neurological challenges.
Students who need support beyond their regular ADA accommodations may enroll in GCU’s fee-based program of tutoring and coaching, which is designed to assist students both academically and personally. This program, The Learning Connection (TLC), includes individual tutoring with a professional staff member; coaching in time management, testing strategies, and study skills; and tracking of grades and performance in coursework. Self-advocacy is greatly encouraged, as it is a major component of academic and personal confidence. What makes this particular model so successful? Students with disabilities have displayed high retention rates, high cumulative GPAs, and high graduation rates after utilizing GCU’s TLC program. TLC is offered in all semesters, including summer and winter.
WHY TLC WORKS
Student participants credit not only the professional tutoring and coaching, but the very strong bonds they form with their Academic Development Specialist. Through TLC, students enter a nurturing environment where “someone really cares” about their success and well-being.
Students are guaranteed two hours of scheduled tutoring and coaching each week, and sessions begin with initial questions about life, adjustment issues, and concerns that may be interfering with performance. The specialist then assists the students with what they need to complete in terms of coursework.
The specialist is a master of all trades, proficient in many subject areas, and dedicated to the emotional and academic success of the student. He or she is the personal cheerleader, resource person, tutor, and sounding board for a student’s concerns. Does this make the student dependent? No. The Academic Development Specialist helps the student self-advocate, problem solve, and think critically, while fostering greater independence and academic success.
Student grades and performance are tracked through midterm reports and semester grade statistics. Last academic year, there was a 100 percent continuation rate of students within the program. In addition, over 90 percent of participating students fell into the GPA range of 2.5 to 4.0 in both the fall and spring semesters, and over half received a cumulative GPA in the range of 3.0 to 4.0. Among our four TLC graduates in 2022, one graduated summa cum laude and one graduated magna cum laude, with graduates earning Dean’s and President’s list. Our students have also received awards and honors, including:
- the Sister Mary Geis Award
- The Officer Christopher Matlosz Award
- Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities
- Kappa Gamma Pi Honors
- Academic Excellence
- Diversity and Inclusion Awards
- Emerging Leader Awards
- the Ambassador Award
- GCU’s Criminal Justice Award
- GCU’s Communication Leadership Award
- Graphic Design and Multimedia Excellence Honors
BEYOND GCU: LIFE AFTER GRADUATION
What happens after graduation? Many students go to graduate school or enter the workforce. Many keep in contact with their specialists after graduation, and the specialists are often invited to weddings, baby showers, and other special occasions!
The students who may have been told that they would not have many options are now ready . . . ready to enter the world as college graduates who have grown in maturity, academic preparation, and self-confidence. It’s amazing what a little TLC can do!
Luana E. Fahr, M.S.Ed, LDT-C, is the Director of Student Success and Academic Support at Georgian Court University.