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Nationwide survey of post secondary education services for students with learning disabilities.

Nationwide Survey of Postsecondary Education Services for Students With Learning Disabilities

ABSTRACT: Postsecondary services for students with learning disabilities vary a great deal from

campus to campus, and published guides to postsecondary education services are often

inaccurate and incomplete. A nationwide survey was conducted to investigate student service

provisions in 2-year colleges and 4-year colleges and universities. The purpose of the study was

to identify and catalog postsecondary education service goals and options for students with

learning disabilities, and to determine differences between the goals service providers have for

these students and services actually provided. The findings and their implications for service

providers at both high school and college levels are discussed. * Since passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its accompanying 504 regulations, students with learning disabilities have been enrolling in postsecondary institutions in ever-increasing numbers (Brill, 1987; Garnett & LaParta, 1984; Mangrum & Strichart, 1984; Sedita, 1986; Vogel, 1985). Nonetheless, services provided for these students vary considerably from institution to institution (Cowen, 1983). This is problematic for special educators at the secondary level, who, in developing transition plans for their students, need to know the services postsecondary institutions are providing in order to prepare students to access those services. The variability of services may also be problematic for postsecondary institutions themselves. Many campuses are examining their own goals and services for students with learning disabilities and are in need of a comprehensive data base on promising trends in service delivery.

There are a number of guides to postsecondary education services for students with learning disabilities (c.f., Mangrum & Strichart, 1984; Skyer & Skyer, 1985; Slovak, 1986; Straughn & Colby, 1985). Information contained in some guides, however, is often inaccurate and incomplete (Cowen, 1986a, 1986b, 1986c). For example, some guides contain no information on community colleges, a common educational option for learning disabled students. Others lack the specificity to determine the extent to which institutions are going beyond minimum Section 504 regulations into more intensive service options such as the development of learning strategies and the remediation of basic skills. The present nationwide survey was conducted to investigate postsecondary options open to learning disabled students.

The purpose of the study was twofold. The first was to determine the availability of the types of services provided for students with learning disabilities. This information would be helpful for parents, high school teachers, and counselors in search of appropriate postsecondary education services. The second purpose was to examine whether schools that differ in their service provision goals (e.g., 504 access, compensatory learning strategies, and remediation of basic skills) also differ in the services they provide for their students with learning disabilities.

This information should be valuable to postsecondary education service providers who could then identify the goals commonly held by other institutions of comparable size and level (e.g., community colleges, 4-year colleges and universities), as well as determine which services are most commonly provided in pursuit of those goals. A final purpose was to determine whether there were differences in services provided by colleges large and small, 2- and 4-year, and suburban, urban, and rural.


Participants and Instrumentation

Questionnaires were sent to members of the Association on Handicapped Student Service Programs in Postsecondary Education (AHSSPPE) who were designated as directors or coordinators of services for handicapped students. Data are not available regarding the precise percentage of handicapped student service providers AHSSPPE represents. However, it is estimated that 50 to 60 percent of all postsecondary institutions providing services for handicapped students belong to this organization (J. Smithson, personal communication, November 15, 1988). A total of 336 questionnaires were mailed to community colleges and 4-year colleges or universities. When several AHSSPPE members were listed for one institution, only one representative of the institution was surveyed. Enclosed with each survey was a cover letter and a return-addressed, stamped envelope. A follow-up mailing was conducted 8 weeks later.

Respondents were asked to provide information on (a) genral characteristics of their institution, such as total enrollment, location, degrees offered, and admission requirements; and (b) three key aspects of their services for students with learning disabilities, that is, admission procedures for services (psychoeducational reports, personal interviews, etc.), service goals (access under section 504, development of compensatory learning strategies, and remediation of basic skills), and actual services provided (504 access services such as taped textbooks and notetakers; special services such as counseling; individualized education plans; and basic skills instruction in the areas of reading, math, and language).

Organization of the questionnaire, including both general areas and specific items within these areas, was based on a comprehensive literature review of frequent programming practices for students with learning disabilities at postsecondary institutions (Barbaro, Christman, Holzinger, & Rosenberg, 1985; Cordoni, 1982; Cowen, 1985; Mangrum & Strichart, 1984; Rosenthal, 1986; Scheiber & Talpers, 1985; Vogel, 1987).

Data Analysis

Frequencies were computed for responses to each survey item. Possible interactions with variables reported as nominal data were analyzed using chi-square analyses. The Kruskal Wallace one-way analysis of variance was used for data reported in ranks, and analysis of variance (ANOVA) was employed for those responses meeting the requirements of interval data. The alpha level was set at .01 because a large number of comparisons (11 for 504 access services, 47 for special services, and 36 for basic skills remediation) increased the likelihood of Type 1 errors (p = .10, .37, and .30, respectively).


There were 160 respondents to the first mailing, and 37 more returned surveys in the second mailing. Overall, 197 (58.6%) of the 336 service providers responded to the survey.

General Institution Characteristics

Surveys were returned by 86 (45%) respondents situated in urban areas, 77 (40%) from suburban areas, and 28 (15%) located in rural areas. Respondents from six schools either checked more than one area or did not respond to this item. Of those responding, 81 (41%) were community colleges offering associate degrees, and 105 (54%) were 4-year colleges and universities offering bachelor's degrees. Eleven colleges either offered graduate programs exclusively or did not answer this item.

The average student enrollment for all colleges surveyed was 11,945. Enrollments ranged from a low of 620 to a high of 42,000. The average number of learning disabled (LD) students served was 53, ranging from 2 to 140 students. Based on these figures, a prevalence rate of four-tenths of one percent can be projected for students with learning disabilities in postsecondary education settings. This is consistent with the prevalence estimate of Deshler, Schumaker, Alley, Warner, and Clark (1980).

With respect to admissions requirements, 103 schools (52%) had open admissions policies. This includes the 81 community colleges in the sample for whom open admissions policy is a standard procedure. The remaining schools used a combination of procedures to admit students; 63 (32%) used student GPA, 57 schools (29%) used SAT scores, 47 schools (24%) used ACT scores, and 45 (23%) maintained cooperative admissions policies between the institutions and handicapped student services.

Service Provision

504 Access Services. Data shown in Table 1 indicate that most 504 access services were being provided by a majority of schools surveyed. For example, taped textbrooks, tape recordings of lectures, notetakers, and modified exam procedures were provided by 90% or more of the sample. Also of interest is that fully 81% had provided their faculty with some form of inservice training on Section 504 regulations.

Special Services. As shown in Table 2, most of the institutions surveyed reported special services including academic advisement (93%), tutoring (94%), counseling (97%), advocacy (86%), and progress monitoring (80%). Additionally, 41% of the respondents had individualized education plans (IEPs) for their students with learning disabilities, whereas only 30% offered special classes.

With respect to tutoring and counseling services, respondents were also asked how these services were conducted (e.g., one-to-one, or in groups), and by whom (e.g., LD-trained professionals or regular professional staff). The results indicated that 80% of the respondents were doing one-to-one tutoring. Roughly a third (32%) of this tutoring was done by LD-trained professionals. Interestingly, most tutoring was done by peers (64%). For individual tutoring, 24% of respondents indicated that regular instructors were used for tutors, whereas 16% of those surveyed used trainees. Some tutoring was done in groups (37%), but again, these group sessions were conducted mainly by peers (33%). Only 19% of the schools used LD-trained professionals for their group tutorial sessions.

Data on counseling indicated that most institutions were providing some form of personal (88%) and career (82%) counseling. Though most programs provided some individual counseling (86% for personal, 81% for career), roughly a third used group counseling formats (39% for personal, 36% for career). About one-fifth conducted counseling classes (19% for personal, 20% for career). However, only one-third of the institutions has LD-trained professionals doing their counseling.

Remedial Services. The results for remedial services, see Table 3, indicated that many schools were providing remedial instruction for students with learning disabilities. Reading remediation was cited by 77% of respondents, 82% offered remedial instruction in written language, 78% provided remedial math instruction, and 86% (see Table 2) offered remediation in study skills. Fewer programs provided remedial instruction in social skills (56%, Table 2) and oral language (36%, Table 3).

As with counseling and tutorial services, questions were also asked about grouping arrangements and staffing patterns vis-a-vis remedial instruction. Results indicated that one-to-one formats were used most often, though roughly one-fifth of the institutions were conducting group remedial classes. For the basic skill areas of reading, mathematics, and written language, about half of the institutions were using content specialists (e.g., reading teachers) to do their remedial instruction while about one in five institutions were using staff trained in learning disabilities (Table 3). Finally, in 30% to 40% of schools surveyed, students received credit for remedial courses in reading, mathematics, and written language (Table 3).

Service Goals Emphasized

Service providers were asked to prioritize among three service provision goals: access under Section 504, special services for developing learning strategies, and remediation of basic skills. Frequency of rankings was calculated for each of the three goals.

A total of 109 respondents (55%) ranked 504 access as their most important service goal. Among the others, 67 (34%) favored the development of compensatory learning strategies, and 25 (13%) indicated that basic skill remediation was most important. Four respondents rated two of the goals as being most important. In these cases, a "most important" tally was assigned to both goal categories. Of the goals rated by schools as being second in importance, 77 (39%) listed development of compensatory learning strategies; 51 (26%) ranked the remediation of basic skills; and 28 (14%) ranked 504 access. According to respondents, the least important service goal was basic skills remediation, identified as being least important by 109 respondents or (55%). This was followed by 48 (24%) respondents who indicated that 504 access was least important and 41 (22%) who felt that development of compensatory learning strategies was least important.

Comparisons Between Service Goals and Services Provided

The data were also analyzed to determine whether services offered by institutions varied according to service goals. These data are displayed according to service area in Tables 1, 2, and 3. First, services at schools ranking 504 access as their most important service goal were compared to services at schools ranking either development of compensatory learning strategies or remediation of basic skills as their major service goals. Comparisons were made using a series of pair-wise chi-square analyses. No significant differences were found.

With respect to additional special services provided, a number of significant differences were found. Schools with 504 access as a priority were less likely to use IEPs (29% vs. 65%; p [is less than] .001) and monitor student progress (75% vs. 94%; p [is less than] .01). Schools emphasizing 504 access were also less likely to provide one-to-one (24% vs. 57%; p [is less than] .001) and group (10% vs. 38%; p [is less than] .001) tutoring using LD specialists.

In the area of remedial services, schools emphasizing 504 access were less likely to employ LD specialists to provide instruction in math (20% vs. 24%; p [is less than] .01), and study skills (20% vs. 36%; p [is less than] .01). These schools were also less likely to provide group social skills training (17% vs. 38%; p [is less than] .01).

A separate comparison of schools stressing the development of compensatory learning strategies with schools emphasizing basic skill remediation was also performed. Only one significant difference was revealed. Schools whose priority was the development of compensatory strategies were more likely to provide staff advocates for their students with learning disabilities (95% vs. 72%; p [is less than] .01).

Comparisons Between Institution Size and Degrees Granted to Services Provided

The results shown in Tables 1, 2, and 3 indicated that 504 services did not differ as a function of school size. With respect to special services, smaller schools were more likely to provide one-to-one (31% vs. 5%; p [is less than] .001), and group (19% vs. 2%; p [is less than] .01) tutoring using a general educator. Finally, basic skill instruction varied significantly in one area: Small schools were more likely to provide mathematics remediation (81% vs. 65%).

An examination of the effects of the type of degree offered (e.g., associate or bachelor's) on services rendered revealed no significant differences with respect to 504 services, but a number of significant differences in special and remedial services. Colleges (2-year) granting associate degrees were more likely to write IEPs for their students (p [is less than] .001) than were 4-year schools (58% vs. 30%). Remedial services tended to vary inversely with the level of degree granted. With respect to remedial instruction, institutions granting associate degrees provided more remedial instruction than institutions offering bachelor's programs. Indeed, a series of chi-square analyses revealed significant differences in reading (93% for associate, 66% for bachelor's; p [is less than] .001), written language (associate, 91%; bachelor's, 74%; p [is less than] .01), and math (88% associate; 69% bachelor's; p [is less than] .01).

Whether or not a particular school gave credit for remedial courses also tended to vary with the level of degree granted; significant chi-squares were revealed for oral language courses (associate, 27%; bachelor's, 5%; p [is less than] .001).

Eligibility Procedures

Respondents used a Likert-type scale of 1-7 for ranking seven eligibility procedures. Ratings were set so that procedures receiving 1s meant they were the "most important" used in making eligibility decisions, and 7s meant they were "least important." For reporting purposes these rankings have been merged into three categories: most important, somewhat important, and least important. The "most important" category was made by combining frequencies for all the 1 and 2 rankings. The category of "somewhat important" comprised the frequencies of all 3, 4 and 5 rankings. The "least important" classification was a merger of the 6 and 7 rankings. A majority of respondents indicated that psychoeducational reports (57%) and personal interviews (52%) were the most important eligibility data gathered for LD services. Diagnostic testing conducted on campus was rated most important by 25% of respondents, whereas 19% placed greatest importance on extended-time ACTs or SATs. Few respondents indicated that letters of recommendation (11%) and autobiographical statements (6%) were most important, though approximately half of them felt that these data were "somewhat important."

Data on eligibility procedures were also analyzed to determine whether procedures varied according to the size of institution, program service goals, and degrees granted. With respect to size, a comparison of the rankings of small (620-15,000 students) and large (15,000 and over) institutions using the Kruskal-Wallace procedure revealed that large institutions ranked extended-timed ACT/SATs as being considerably more important in making eligibility decisions than did smaller ones (p [is less than] .01 [Chi.sup.square] = 7.01). Larger institutions may have been referring to eligibility for admission as opposed to eligibility for learning disabilities services. However, permission to take ACT and SAT tests on extended time is contingent upon documentation of the disability, and therefore may become part of a student's eligibility data. No other significant differences in admissions rankings with respect to institutional size were found.

Eligibility procedures were also analyzed according to school service goal priorities. Schools ranking 504 access as their most important service goal were compared to schools ranking special services or remediation as their primary service goals. No significant differences were found. A pair-wise comparison of those institutions emphasizing remedial instruction versus those stressing special services also revealed no significant differences. A comparison of schools offering associate and bachelor's degrees resulted in two significant differences. Schools offering bachelor's degrees placed more importance on the extended-time ACT/SATs (p [is less than] .001), whereas those institutions granting associate degrees tended to stress diagnostic testing when making eligibility decisions (p [is less than] .001).

Finally, respondents were asked whether they required attendance at a summer orientation for service eligibility, and whether, once determined eligible, students were required to pay a fee for services. The results indicated that only 8 schools (4%) charged a special fee for learning disabilities services, though 73 schools (37%) did not respond to this item. Eleven schools (6%) required summer orientation for service eligibility. However, 154 schools (78%) did not respond to this question.


Data were also gathered on the percentage of postsecondary institutions employing LD specialists. The results indicated that 105 (53%) of the institutions surveyed had either part-time or full-time LD specialists on staff. Of these, 50 (25%) employed part-time LD staff, and 65 (33%) employed full-time staff with a specialization in learning disabilities.

A series of ANOVAs were conducted to determine whether the presence of LD-trained staff on a campus varied with size, service goals, and degrees granted. Though no significant differences were found based on size and degrees granted, an analysis of variance revealed that schools stressing the development of learning strategies and basic skills remediation had significantly more full-time LD staff (.69 per school vs. .26 per school; p [is less than] .001) than those schools emphasizing 504 access. Differences with respect to part-time staff were not significant.

Graduation Rates

All schools surveyed were asked to report the percentage of students with learning disabilities who were graduating or completing a course of study. Unfortunately, only 20 schools (10%) responded to this item. Apparently, these are not data routinely kept. Results from the few who did respond show an average graduation rate of 30%.


Results of the survey indicated that, overall, institutions surveyed are in compliance with federal 504 regulations. These results are not surprising, because all respondents were members of AHSSPPE, a group that stresses 504 compliance. Future research should include institutions that are not members of AHSSPPE.

In addition to 504 access services, the data from the study indicated that most schools are also providing additional special and remedial services. The heterogeneity of postsecondary education students with learning disabilities would seem to indicate that the continuum of services found in this survey is an outgrowth of needs perceived by institutions attempting to serve this population.

Though it appears that the institutions surveyed are attempting to provide a broad range of services for their students with learning disabilities, results of this survey indicated that goals for providing the services vary. Over half the institutions surveyed (55%) ranked 504 access as their number one priority. This is not surprising because AHSSPPE members would tend to stress compliance to 504 regulations as a starting point. About a third of all respondents listed the development of compensatory learning strategies as most important, whereas only about 1 in 10 indicated that remedial instruction in basic skills was most important.

Interaction analyses conducted indicated that the extent of services offered by a particular institution varies according to service goal priorities. Institutions for which the development of learning strategies and basic skills remediation are a priority provide considerably more services for their students with learning disabilities and are also more likely to employ LD specialists to deliver those services the institutions focused on 504 access.

Services provided may also vary according to the size of a particular institution as well as degrees granted. For example, it appears that small colleges and community colleges offer more personalized services, as evidenced by their greater use of IEPs, service monitoring, and individualized tutoring and counseling. High school counselors and parents are advised to consider factors such as service goals, size, and degrees offered as they investigate the service provisions at each school of interest. This will help ensure that the needs of each student are met.

There were several interesting findings related to the staffing patterns of schools surveyed. One concerns the use of peer tutors. Apparently, this is a widespread practice, with approximately two-thirds of all tutoring being conducted by peers. This raises important questions with respect to who trains these peers, and how extensively they are trained. Anecdotal observations suggest that peer tutors are selected on the basis of excellence in specific content areas. However, their training, as it regards working with LD students, tends to be brief and insufficient to master elements of effective instruction.

Another staffing issue concerns the frequent (50% of the sample) use of content-area specialists who deliver remedial instruction to students with learning disabilities. As with peer tutors, questions arise with respect to the extent of their training in instructional strategies for students with learning disabilities, and whether there is a perceived need for such training. A follow-up study is being planned to address both of these staffing issues.

Finally, the data on graduation rates of students with learning disabilities deserve comment. The fact that so few institutions keep track of whether or not their students graduate is disturbing. Clearly, there must be a concerted effort in the future to collect not only graduation information, but follow-up data on vocational and life adjustment as well. Certainly there could be no better yardstick of service effectiveness than this.

WILLIAM D. BURSUCK is Associate Professor and Co-Director, Office of Postsecondary Education Research and Development: ERNEST ROSE is Assistant Professor and Co-Director, Office of Postsecondary Education Research and Development; SARA COWEN is Director, Project TAPE: Technical Assistance for Postsecondary Education; and MOHD. AZMI YAHAYA is Graduate Research Assistant, Northern Illinois Postsecondary Education Project, Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Council for Exceptional Children
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes bibliography
Author:Bursuck, William D.; Rose, Ernest; Cowen, Sara; Yahaya, Mohd. Azmi
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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