Addressing Language-based Learning Disabilities: the Regional Center
- Fairleigh Dickinson University
A new partner in the Newcombe Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program, Fairleigh Dickinson's support for students with learning disabilities is unique in its intensive, comprehensive program - available at no extra cost to the students. Originally a state funded operation, the Regional Center for Learning Disabilities is an extension of FDU's commitment to students who need specialized services to reach their goal of earning a degree. The Newcombe Foundation welcomes FDU into the cohort of Newcombe-funded institutions offering scholarships to students with disabilities.
The following article is an overview of the Regional Center program at FDU written by Barbara A. Byrnes, Metropolitan Campus Director.
FDU, New Jersey's largest private university, established in 1942, has two New Jersey campuses. The Metropolitan Campus, located in Teaneck, is less than 10 miles from New York City. In addition to its four year program, FDU is the only private university in New Jersey to offer a full-time associate degree; Regional Center students can be enrolled in either the four year program or the two year program.
For almost 30 years the Regional Center, founded by Dr. Mary L. Farrell, has been changing the lives of students with learning disabilities. This nationally recognized program offers a comprehensive, structured plan of intensive academic support, advisement, and counseling services to meet the individual needs of students with language-based learning disabilities. The Regional Center's services are offered at no additional fee above tuition.
Weekly academic support sessions are one of the key aspects of the program. In these sessions students are presented with learning strategies to assist them in their course work. These sessions are content specific. Students work with one learning specialist for their math support, another for their English support, and another for history support, etc. In addition to time management and organizational skills, listening, note-taking, memory, and reading strategies are woven into the supports. During the student's first year at the Regional Center, they have up to four academic support sessions a week, usually one for each academic course they are taking. In their sophomore year, students may receive three weekly support sessions and in their junior and senior years they receive two academic supports with the goal of increasing students' independence. Freshmen also receive a weekly writing workshop support, where they work on enhancing writing skills. Students in developmental math classes are given an additional hour of math workshop.
Another essential aspect of the program is the Metacognitive Strategies course that presents students with proven strategies to assist them in becoming more effective and self-assured learners. The course is designed to help students with learning disabilities approach college-level course work strategically and to capitalize on their individual learning styles. Topics discussed include reading and test taking strategies, self-motivation, stress management, positive vs negative mindsets, self- advocacy, career development and goal-setting. The course also assists students in understanding their learning disabilities. The Assistive Technology component of the course teaches students how to access cutting-edge technologies available through the Center and online. Students are presented with electronic strategies on many topics including assignment planning, time management, alternative format texts, internet resources, reading, memory and note-taking skills.
Regional Center students are entitled to priority registration, which insures being placed in the specific course sections they request. While the Regional Center is not the student's official advisor, learning specialists, along with the Regional Center counselor, meet with students to plan and discuss their schedules each semester. Freshmen meet weekly with the Regional Center counselor who helps keep the students on track by reviewing assignments, schedules, and extracurricular activities. The counselor assists students with the transition process, helps ease the adjustment to college life, and helps students maintain a balance between academic work and campus life.
Depending on the student's specific needs, the Regional Center provides a variety of support accommodations. Typical accommodations include audio textbooks, extended time for exams, text-to-speech software for exams and use of digital pens for note-taking. If needed, proctoring of exams takes place at the Center. The learning specialists along with the students contact the professors and make arrangements for exams taken at the Center.
The Director, Learning Specialists and Counselor meet weekly to discuss any individual student concerns that arise. Strategies introduced in the Metacognitive Strategies class are discussed and the learning specialists weave the specific topics into their weekly support sessions. At these meetings student concerns and problems, as well as student successes and honors, are shared. The staff is composed of professionals with at least a master's degree.
The Regional Center‘s retention rate between freshmen and sophomore years usually ranges between 87% and 90%. Over 81% of RC students have a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher. Fifty percent of students have a cumulative GPA over 3.0. Students participate in many clubs and organizations on campus, including FDU's literary magazine, newspaper, student government positions and sports teams. A few students have spent a semester abroad or taken a summer class on FDU's campus in Wroxton, England.
Finally, the Regional Center becomes a "home away from home" for students. There is a computer room, a comfortable gathering space, and a few private study rooms where students can write papers, prepare for exams or just relax. Together, students and staff create a friendly and assuring learning environment that is built on mutual respect. The Regional Center's goal is to help every student realize his or her potential and to become a valued member of society.
For further information about the Regional Center for Learning Disabilities, please visit the FDU website.