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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Iowa Research Shows Financial Status Affects Success of Students with Learning Disabilities

College students who receive special accommodations because of a learning disability say they have less difficulty completing assignments and more contact with faculty outside of class than peers who do not receive extra help.

A new study by the University of Iowa, however, found that only one third of undergraduates from 11 universities who reported having a learning disability were receiving accommodations.

The disparity might come down to two things: a desire to be independent and money.

“Some students with learning disabilities go to college, and they want to manage on their own,” says Dr. Karla McGregor, a professor in the UI Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and lead author of the study. “They don’t want the extra help.”

However, this study found there’s more to the disparity than a wish to go it alone.

Post-secondary educational facilities are not mandated to identify students with learning disabilities. It is up to the student to self-identify, and that’s where the money comes in. Many universities require documentation of a student’s learning disability in order to qualify for special accommodations. Screenings, interviews, and tests to confirm the existence of a disability can cost as much as $5,000.

“Accommodations are free, but the tests to prove you have a learning disability are not,” says Dr. McGregor.

According to the study, 50 percent of the wealthiest students with a learning disability reported receiving accommodations; only 30 percent of low-income, working-class, and middle-class students with a learning disability said they received extra help. In addition, the study found the rate of accommodation was higher among out-of-state than in-state students at the various universities studied.

“This too could reflect affluence as out-of-state tuition is typically two- to five-times greater than in-state tuition,” the authors write.

The study, “The University Experiences of  Students with Learning Disabilities,” was published May 17 online in Learning Disabilities Research & Practice. The UI research team included Ms. Natalie Langenfeld, doctoral student in biostatistics, and Jacob Oleson, associate professor of biostatistics.