Colleges recently reported to the U.S. Department of Education that, among students with disabilities, 31 percent have some kind of learning disability. Starting in January, the Sage Colleges in Albany, NY will be offering a new all-online bachelor’s degree program, the Achieve Degree, designed specifically for students on the autism spectrum and for students with learning disabilities. The program offers a bachelor of arts in liberal studies with an emphasis in computer science and is the first of its kind to offer a four-year degree. Students in the program have to meet the same admissions standards and academic requirements as students in other parts of the college but can individualize how they work towards the degree, says InsideHigherEd:
They can opt for multiple-choice over essay exams, or choose their preferred form of content delivery – audio, video or text – and absorb the lectures that way. The program is also year-round, so students can take fewer courses per term and not drift off during summer break.
Bellevue College in Washington State offers an associate degree in occupational and life skills for students. While it was an “anomaly” when it started, it graduated its first class in 2008 and enrollment is up 12 percent, to 60 students.
There’s a growing demand for programs like those at Sage Colleges and Bellevue College. The advantage of such specially-designed programs is that students on the autism spectrum, for whom social interactions can pose significant challenges in learning, can complete college-level coursework in a non-traditional educational setting:
Dana Reinecke, in the department of applied behavior analysis at the Sage Colleges in Albany, N.Y., said she realized that through online learning, students with autism can overcome those barriers [presented by a traditional classroom setting]. “It allows them to learn from their most comfortable environment, whether it’s home, a library, a friend’s house, a treatment center, their psychiatrist’s office,” she said. “It takes away that need to be in a room full of people that they might be uncomfortable with.”
Tuition for the Sage Colleges program — $27,000 the first year, slightly more the second year, then $43,000 — is comparable to that of traditional colleges.
While there are still advantages to a traditional classroom, courses that can be completed at home sound like good option. Ruth Zanoni tried home-schooling her 14-year-old daughter, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, with online education as a supplement; bullying in her daughter’s Maryland public school had become “too intense.” The sensory overload from the physical environment of a typical public school — fluorescent lights, jam-packed hallways” — can be overwhelming for students on the autism spectrum of any age.
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