Factors contributing to the academic outcomes of university students with learning disabilities

Date of Completion

January 1996


Education, Special|Education, Higher




This research was conducted in an attempt to identify the factors contributing to the academic outcomes of 20 adults with learning disabilities who had been enrolled at a large research university--ten who graduated (Persisters) and ten who were academically dismissed (Leavers). Verbal abilities as measured by the Wechsler Scales-Revised and the SAT were used to examine the contribution of verbal abilities to group membership. In addition, in-depth interviews were conducted to identify the factors that contributed to subjects' academic outcomes from the subjects' perspective.^ Results of a cluster analysis indicated that, for this group of individuals, verbal abilities as measured by the aforementioned tests did not result in relevant groupings (i.e., graduation from the university or academic dismissal). Rather, analysis of interviews resulted in a constellation of core categories of factors that may explain why, given similar cognitive abilities, some individuals persisted and graduated while others were academically dismissed.^ From an analysis of in-depth interviews, a rich array of core categories emerged: dissatisfaction with elementary and secondary school programming, communication skills, goodness of fit, emotional intelligence, and persistence. Both leavers and persisters felt that teachers and counselors had low expectations for them due to their learning disabilities. Many felt they would have been better prepared for college had they taken more challenging courses in high school. Those who were placed in self-contained special education classrooms felt stigmatized by that experience. A small subset of the individuals possessed significant deficits in oral language that impacted upon them socially, academically, and professionally.^ The persisters reported finding a better match between the institution, their major, and their individual strengths and weaknesses as compared to many of the leavers. Despite being matched on Full Scale IQ, the leavers and the persisters described their strengths differently. Many of the persisters reported being good analytical thinkers and highly verbal, while many of the leavers described themselves as being hands-on, interactive learners.^ Emotional intelligence was also a factor on which many of the leavers and persisters diverged. Emotional intelligence included the ability to manage emotions under duress, interpersonal abilities, empathy, positive reframing, explanatory style, and persistence. ^