Two ways to improve support services for adult learners with learning disabilities


Two ways to improve support services for adult learners with learning disabilities

In our new survey, 100% of university presidents and provosts identified graduate and adult learner enrollment as a priority. With this increased focus on adult learner enrollment should come a growing emphasis on adult learner success. Surveyed adult learners consistently identify student support services as an important factor when making an enrollment decision. But as my colleague Ed Venit described, student success efforts for graduate students and other adult learner populations often lag behind those at the undergraduate level.

When building out support services for adult learners, one population to prioritize is students with learning disabilities, such as ADHD. This blog will outline steps your university can take to best support this population.

Understanding the challenge

According to a 2012 National Institute of Mental Health survey, around 4.25% of U.S. adults are diagnosed with ADHD—up from 3.41% in 2007. Between 2007 and 2016, a study found a 43% increase in in adults with newly diagnosed ADHD. Further, The Attention Deficit Disorder Association nearly doubled its membership between 2019 and 2021 as challenges experienced during the pandemic increased ADHD awareness. Given these trends, institutions should expect to enroll and serve a growing population of adult learners with ADHD.

We know that most adult learners balance work and family commitments while enrolled—and that these competing responsibilities can delay or inhibit some prospective students from pursuing additional education. Adult learners with ADHD frequently experience difficulties with time management and organization, which can further exacerbate the challenges of balancing school with personal and professional obligations. For adult learners with ADHD and other learning disabilities (e.g., Dyslexia, Executive Functioning Disorder), your university’s support services could make all the difference.

Two ways to improve support

1. Follow a supported education model

Existing ADHD accommodations at universities are often insufficient. Research published in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability suggests students enrolled in college-level courses are far less likely to seek ADHD accommodations than high school students. Concerns over negative perceptions among peers and faculty, as well as a desire for self-sufficiency, often prevent adult learners from seeking out existing accommodations. And the accommodations that support high school students with ADHD do not always work for adults.

Accommodations for adults with ADHD should follow a supported education model designed to help students cope with stress while maximizing self-determination. Ensure these accommodations are well-advertised and normalized to prevent feelings of stigmatization.

Supported education models come in a variety of forms. Curry College, for example, offers a Program for Advancement of Learning for Adult Learners, which provides students with group learning experiences, peer support, and learning centered around ADHD, executive functioning challenges, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and other learning disabilities.

2. Offer personalized coaching

Ohio University and the University of Arizona offer academic coaching/support services, which are particularly helpful for adult learners with ADHD. Coaches provide students with personalized support to help with time management, test anxiety, note-taking difficulties, and other common challenges adult learners with ADHD face. These coaches can help students manage both the mental and academic challenges posed by ADHD and other learning disabilities.

As the population of adult learners with ADHD grows, these accommodations will help students succeed and matriculate at your institution—and attract other students looking for robust student support services to your college or university.

Ready to find out more?

Get to know your future adult learner population.

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