Managing learning disabilities in college represents a unique challenge – for both the students who have them and the schools that want to help. And while colleges and universities in the United States are required by law to offer certain services for students with disabilities, these services only guarantee the bare minimum regarding academic assistance and accommodations.
Fortunately, there are a few schools that have gone above and beyond that minimum threshold. These colleges provide specialized support programs for young adults who have the potential to succeed academically, but who may face cognitive obstacles like dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia; language or auditory processing disorder; Asperger’s Syndrome or autism; or related issues such as ADD/ADHD. (You can learn more about the types of learning disorders here). Students with physical disabilities or chronic medical conditions may also experience cognitive impairment and require some extra academic support to succeed.
Thanks to the unique opportunities available at these colleges, hardworking students can overcome many of the challenges their learning differences create and gain the skills – and degree credentials – they need to achieve their personal and professional goals.
The 20 Best Value Colleges for Learning Disabilities Ranking Methodology
How do you pinpoint the schools with the best programs for learning disabled (LD) and special needs students? We started by searching the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPED database for the colleges that attract an unusually large number of students with disabilities. More specifically, we only considered schools at which more than 5% of undergraduates are formally registered with the office of disability services. From that point, one of the main factors we considered in our ranking was the actual percentage of undergraduate students at the college who have learning disabilities. In the list below, the values range from 7-100%!
However, just because a program is popular with LD individuals doesn’t mean its services are necessarily successful. Therefore, we also considered each school’s overall undergraduate graduation rate (a measure of success for all undergrads, not just those with unique learning needs). And to pinpoint the programs that offer the most individual attention and a supportive academic environment at every stage of learning, we looked at each college’s student-to-faculty ratio. We acquired both of these statistics from the NCES’ College Navigator database.
Once we had obtained a short-list of potential top programs, we researched each college individually to assess the types of services they provide for students with learning disabilities. We considered both the range of available services as well as any particularly unique resources and opportunities that benefit LD undergrads.
The result of our research was this ranking of the 20 top colleges for students with learning disabilities. While everyone – especially LD individuals – has unique academic strengths and opportunities, we believe that this list represents the overall best schools for catering to those individual needs.
20. American University
Learning Services Program (LSP)
American University offers a one-year Learning Services Program (LSP) designed specifically for first-year students struggling with learning disabilities in college. Freshmen who join LSP benefit from weekly meetings with an academic counselor, one-on-one course advising sessions, and regular lessons with a writing tutor. LSP members also take a special introductory writing course and receive guidance from an upper-class mentor. By the end of the year, program participants will have developed effective study habits and strategies that they can carry with them throughout their time at American. And while sophomores and upperclassmen can’t join LSP, they can still get plenty of help through the school’s general Academic Support & Access Center.
Net Price: $34,812/yr
19. Franklin Pierce University
Center Scholar Program
The Center of Academic Excellence at Franklin Pierce University supports a unique initiative known as the Center Scholar program. This program is open to select undergrads who have the capacity to succeed in college but may struggle with specific issues, such as a learning disability. Center Scholars in their first year at Franklin Pierce meet regularly with tutors and learning specialists as they adjust to college-level courses. They also have access to special workshops that address issues like time management and provide information about campus resources. And although it’s primarily a one-year program, returning sophomores can serve as “Center Mentors” to share their experience dealing with learning disabilities in college with incoming freshmen.
Net Price: $28,363/yr
18. King’s College
First Year Academic Studies Program (FASP)
King’s College provides yet another high-quality option for individuals looking for a learning disabilities college program that emphasizes support in the first year of study. Appropriately called the “First Year Academic Studies Program” (FASP), this initiative’s primary goal is to help smooth the transition to college life for freshmen students. Undergraduates in FASP can choose from two levels of support. Students on the “Tier 1” receive more intensive support, including three meetings per week with a learning specialist to help them build cognitive skills, independence, and self-confidence. “Tier 2,” which is open to sophomores and transfers, offers similar resources but at a lower level of intensity (only 20 sessions with a learning specialist per semester).
Net Price: $25,241/yr
17. Muskingum University
New Concord, OH
Founded in the early 1980s, Muskingum University’s PLUS Program for students with learning disabilities in college is one of the oldest on this ranking. That also means the university has nearly 40 years of experience in providing specialized support to undergraduates with atypical learning needs. All this expertise has shaped the PLUS program’s philosophy over time, which today emphasizes the development of life-long learning skills, self-direction, and a sense of responsibility for managing individual needs. Note that graduation requirements are the same for learning disabled students as for all other undergrads. However, the PLUS Program encourages its members to take a lighter course load and apply for accommodations like extended test time and extensions on homework assignments.
Net Price: $19,005/yr
16. Manhattanville College
Higher Education Learning Program (HELP)
Unlike some of the other colleges for learning disabilities on this ranking, Manhattanville College doesn’t confine its services to a single program. Rather, it takes a multi-pronged approach that ensures students with diverse cognitive challenges get exactly the help they need. The most general of these initiatives is the Higher Education Learning Program (HELP), which is open to any MC student with a documented disability. HELP provides three hours of individualized tutoring each week, and sessions may cover skill development (e.g. organizational, reading/writing, or general study skills) or subject/content lessons. And just in 2015, Manhattanville launched a second, more specialized program known as Pathways and Connections (PAC) that specifically caters to the needs of undergrads with ASD.
Net Price: $23,838/yr
15. Marist College
Learning Support Program
Like Muskingum University, Marist has been operating its learning disabilities college program for nearly 40 years. First established in the early 1980s (after more than a decade of enrolling students with diverse educational needs), Marist’s Learning Support Program offers individual counseling on issues like time management, note-taking, and organizational strategies. It also facilitates accommodations for undergrads who need assistive technology or modified testing conditions. Also, the program also promotes independence and encourages members to advocate for their own needs on a continual basis. And considering it has a 10% enrollment rate of undergrads with disabilities and a graduation rate of almost 80%, it’s safe to say that Marist is successful in its goals – as are its students!
Net Price: $35,586/yr
14. Westfield State University
Learning Disabilities Program
Westfield State University offers two distinct programs that benefit learning disabled and special needs students. The more intensive and specialized option, appropriately called the Learning Disabilities Program, is open to applicants with a diagnosed learning- or ADHD-based disability who show potential to succeed in college-level courses. Those who are admitted to this learning disabilities college program unlock benefits like priority course registration, academic progress monitoring, and individualized advising. They can also get assistance on everything from academic skill development and executive functioning to methods of self-advocacy. As a separate initiative, WSU also supports a robust peer-tutoring program that is open to all undergrads.
Net Price: $15,203/yr
13. West Virginia Wesleyan College
The Learning Center
Students with unconventional learning styles can find all the help they could possibly need at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Through the school’s Learning Center, individuals with special academic needs can access “centralized and comprehensive programming” that includes one-on-one professional tutoring, academic counseling for goal-setting and organizational skills, and special classes that utilize the Lindamood-Bell approach (a technique for addressing difficulties in math, reading, writing, and cognitive processing). But what sets WVWC apart from other top colleges for students with learning disabilities is its Mentor Advantage Program, which provides several hours per week of organizational and “strategic content” academic counseling plus daily check-ins with a professional tutor.
Net Price: $18,521/yr
12. Ursuline College
Pepper Pike, OH
Ursuline College’s FOCUS Program serves as a much-needed support system for undergraduates with learning disabilities and ADHD. The goal of FOCUS is to help participants develop strategies that will make them better able to learn independently. To this end, the program utilizes a multi-phase approach similar to many other top colleges for students with disabilities. At the highest level of support, freshmen will meet with a disability specialist three times per week and receive regular progress reports from their professors. They’ll also benefit from additional course advising and priority registration. As time goes on, students graduate to greater levels of independence, receiving fewer monitoring reports and meeting with a specialist less often.
Net Price: $15,034/yr
11. Hofstra University
The Program for Academic Learning Skills (PALS)
Hofstra University’s Program for Academic Learning Skills (PALS) is more than thirty years old, leaving little doubt that this college is highly experienced in LD education. Learning disabled and ADD/ADHD students who enroll in PALS pay a one-time fee that guarantees them access to a learning specialist from orientation through graduation. In fact, PALS requires participants to make at least a one-year commitment to maximize their chances of academic success. And while these features alone would secure Hofstra’s reputation as one of the best colleges for students with learning disabilities, the University goes even further by offering one-on-one academic coaching on topics ranging from test-taking strategies to learning style awareness.
Net Price: $30,459/yr
10. Westminster College
Learning Difference Program (LDP)
Of the nearly 10% of Westminster undergrads who are formally registered with the school’s disability services center, about half participate in the Learning Differences Program (LDP). Ideal for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia, and Disorder of Written Expression, the LDP provides extensive support services that help LD students realize their academic potential. Of course, as one of the best colleges for learning disabilities, Westminster’s program has all the standard features, like one-on-one advising and accommodations (e.g. note-taking and extended time on tests). But what sets this program apart from the pack is that it also offers supplemental courses in core areas – like the humanities and natural sciences – that are specifically designed to promote effective study habits.
Net Price: $20,473/yr
9. College of Charleston
The goal of the REACH Program at the College of Charleston is to provide learning disabled students – as well as those with mild developmental disabilities – with a traditional and enjoyable experience on campus. REACH members live in dorms with other students, attend regular classes, and can participate in all campus activities and clubs. At the same time, this affordable college for students with disabilities offers special REACH courses in topics like “Writing Comprehension,” “Interpersonal Communication,” and “Career Exploration.” Undergrads with certain emotional/social impairments (such as those with autism spectrum disorder or ASD) can also take advantage of social skills training workshops and will have access to a “social mentor” who will help them meet and get to know other students.
Net Price: $18,677/yr
8. Curry College
Program for Advancement of Learning (PAL)
When it comes to helping students with learning disabilities succeed, Curry College takes a proactive approach. It all starts with Summer PAL, a transition program for incoming freshmen to help them develop effective learning habits, self-understanding, and self-confidence before the fall semester begins. During the year, members of the PAL learning disabilities college program continue to receive support through individual and small group course options that focus on functional tasks – like time management and organization – as well as skills like reading and language comprehension. PAL members also have the option to join a designated living learning community (LLC) or participate in a PAL cohort with other learning disabled students who share similar interests/majors.
Net Price: $31,104/yr
7. High Point University
High Point, NC
At High Point University, students with unconventional learning needs can get the help they need not just to survive college, but to achieve “extraordinary academic excellence.” Although the “Learning Excellence” program is open to any undergraduate who wants to improve their study habits, individuals with cognitive impairments such as ADD/ADHD perhaps stand the most to gain from its services. From weekly meetings with a learning specialist to required study hall sessions, this program sends a clear message about what makes High Point one of the best colleges for students with disabilities. What’s more, LE participants benefit from targeted tutoring sessions in specific skill areas (e.g. reading and math) as well as their course content.
Net Price: $36,927/yr
6. Lesley University
The Threshold Program
Lesley University’s innovative Threshold Program goes well beyond the standard services that most of the top colleges for students with disabilities offer. Forget personalized tutoring – Threshold is a truly comprehensive, two-year program that tailors every aspect of the college experience to individuals with “special needs and diverse learning challenges.” Most importantly, the curriculum emphasizes the skills necessary to get a job and live independently. As such, the program limits members to one of just two majors – Early Childhood Education or Business Services – to maximize their chances of success. Upon graduating from Threshold, most participants complete either a post-grad “Transition Year” (focusing on paid employment) or a “Bridge Year” for continuing undergrads to live on campus and pursue internships.
Net Price: $30,940/yr
5. Lynn University
Boca Raton, FL
Institute for Achievement and Learning
Why are approximately one in four undergraduates at Lynn enrolled in disability services? It might have something to do with the school’s Institute for Achievement and Learning (IAL), a recognized leader in academic support and “enhanced learning experiences” for college students. And although it’s hardly the most affordable college for students with learning disabilities, Lynn University’s IAL is long on value. In the first year of the program (which is mandatory), undergrads build a strong foundation through specialized academic tutoring and coaching, personalized tutoring and writing help, and diagnostic assessments if needed. In subsequent years, IAL participants shift their focus away from intensive skill development and more toward self-advocacy, school-life balance, and problem-solving strategies.
Net Price: $36,880/yr
4. Dean College
Arch Learning Community
Without a doubt, Dean University offers one of the most innovative learning disabilities college programs on our ranking. This is because the school structures its program as a “learning community,” thus providing a more intimate environment and closer level of support than many other colleges. LD students who are admitted to the Arch Learning Community benefit from both individual and group academic coaching as well as personalized course advising. What’s more, ALC undergrads participate in weekly seminars and can enroll in smaller-than-average courses. And of course, Dean also utilizes the popular step-down approach that encourages ALC participants to develop independence over time.
Net Price: $27,417/yr
3. Mitchell College
New London, CT
The Bentsen Learning Center
Given that more than a third of its undergraduates have a registered disability, it’s safe to say that Mitchell is one of the most popular colleges for students with learning disabilities in the entire country. And it’s not hard to see why. Indeed, Mitchell’s Bentsen Learning Center provides nearly unparalleled support for undergraduates with unique learning differences and attention deficit disorders. Services include targeted instruction in various learning strategies, designated study areas for BLC members, and content workshops to improve understanding and build good study habits. On top of all this, program participants receive individualized support from an assigned learning specialist with expertise in organization, comprehension, memory, time management, test prep, and much more.
Net Price: $27,223/yr
2. Landmark College
Obviously, all of the schools on this list offer some sort of learning disabilities college program for students who need extra academic support. But Landmark doesn’t just offer a single program; rather, the entire school is wholly dedicated to undergraduate education for those who learn a little differently. Academic resources include everything from executive function coaching to assistive technology, while students with ASD benefit from targeted support like the “Social Groups Cluster,” which is designed to help with social interactions and anxiety issues. Landmark also offers a “Bridge Semester” that can help new/transfer students better understand their learning styles and improve their study habits before applying/returning to a traditional college.
Net Price: $36,984/yr
1. Beacon College
When it comes to the best colleges for students with learning disabilities, none holds a candle to Beacon College. As the first accredited school in the nation to cater exclusively to undergraduates with learning differences (including ADHD and dyslexia), Beacon is in a class all by itself. To help each student make the most of their college experience, Beacon emphasizes highly individualized course plans and plenty of one-on-one support. In addition to small class sizes and assistive technology, learning disabled individuals can also benefit from academic mentoring, peer tutoring, and even life coaching.
Net Price: $38,054/yr
Thanks for reading our ranking of the 20 top colleges for learning disabilities!