Increase in students with disabilities coincides with decreased funding

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by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necochea

Looking back on Spring 2011, Quan Luong realizes now he couldn’t handle 18 units without help.
 

The former journalism major who has epilepsy registered seven classes – and six units more than the minimum for full-time enrollment – due to the priority registration he received through the CSUN Disability Resources and Educational Services.

 

DRES offers services to assist students with special needs, but Luong didn’t realize the academic burden of his schedule until his poor marks and health problems left him without an option, he said.

 

“No one had any real advice for me. There were no loopholes, no further instructions — nothing,” he said. “I was told I had to start over, and that was that.”

 

The semester before Luong took one class because he was not registered with DRES and had a late registration date, he said.

 

DRES helped Luong by offering alternative testing and a room where he could take exams privately with an extended amount of time for five of those classes.

 

However, he received little to no guidance from counselors regarding his schedule or how to manage it, he said.

Halfway through his second semester, in which six of his classes were upper division, Luong suffered a third seizure. He ended being placed on Academic Probation that semester for getting below a 2.0 GPA.

 

That summer, he filed a retroactive transition so his spring classes would not count against him, he said. A retroactive transition is when the campus receives proof that a student is not capable of completing the remainder of a school year after an incident has occurred.

 

When he tried to register for summer school and was only admitted into two classes because DRES does not offer priority registration during these months, Luong became discouraged, he said.

 

DRES had always provided him with guidance and encouragement, Luong said. Now, he felt abandoned.

 

“I was really upset,” he said. “I got frustrated with the whole situation, and didn’t want to come back.”

 

One of the biggest problems with the services has been students’ awareness and comfort with using the programs DRES offers, according to program officials. And statewide budget cuts could impact these services as the need for them rises.

 

From 1999 to 2007, California public post-secondary schools reported an almost 20 percent increase in the number of undergraduate students with disabilities, and New York schools reported about a 40 percent increase, according to a 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.Counselors at DRES are supposed to help students manage their disabilities and advocate for themselves, said to Jodi Johnson, DRES director.

 

“I have many students that could handle (18 units), and many that could not,” she said. “If a student asked how many units to take, I would follow up with several questions so they could make the decision. I would never say, ‘You can’t do this.’ They get to decide. They’re in the driver’s seat.
 

CSUN’s journalism department could not confirm the number of classes Luong took because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), said Heather Powell, administrative support coordinator.

 

More students now than ever

 

The Americans with Disability Act section 504 requires certain services must be funded and provided for all students with disabilities in campus.

Since the act passed in 1990, many of the students who were able to take advantage of the new law growing up are now coming of age to enter college, said Mary Ann Cummins-Prager, vice president of Student Affairs.

“After the act passed, students with disabilities were given better support services and proper education that will prepare them for college-level education, and therefore the numbers will continue to increase in the future,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Education sponsored two surveys that demonstrated an increase in students with disabilities enrolling in post-secondary schools.

The National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS), conducted in 1990 and followed by an updated version, the NLTS2, in 2005, was meant to grasp secondary and post-secondary schooling experiences and outcomes for student with disabilities.

The first study noted that 26 percent of students with disabilities, within four years of exiting high school, were reported to have enrolled in a post-secondary school.

That figure jumped to 46 percent in 2005, the NLTS2 study showed.

Since 1990 the number of students registered with DRES has fluctuated but increased slightly overall to about 230.

More students could utilize the service, Cummins-Prager said, but many still don’t feel comfortable asking for the help.

“It’s a stigma, students get sick of the label,” Cummins-Prager said. “Our goal is to reduce the stigma, (because) having a hidden disability isn’t different then a physical handicap.”

Math professor Bruce Shapiro echoed her sentiment.

“High-IQ autistic individuals tend to get drawn to engineering. I would estimate that at least half my students are somewhere on the autistic spectrum, it’s about 1 percent in the general population.

“In fact, what we used to call ‘geeks’ is now officially called Asperger’s syndrome. I’ve even listened in to conversations during labs as most of a class exchanged information on their diagnoses and medications,” Shapiro said.

Despite their openness, most of these students do not take advantage of DRES, said the math professor who was originally interviewed for this project in Spring 2011. Repeated attempts to reach him by phone and email have been unsuccessful.

Although some students need more help, he said at the time, could not provide it because available materials are focused on teaching disabled students how to solve real-world problems, like making change for a bus fare, rather than instructing them how to calculate theoretical problems, such as integrals.

“Virtually all the literature is about how to help young children and especially those with lower IQs, but none of it is about (learning disabilities in college students).

“What is needed is some extensive applied research into how to treat learning disabled students in college,” Shapiro said. “These kids are really smart, but just don’t learn in the normal way.”

Faculty Development, a department under Center for Innovative and Engaged Learning Opportunities (CIELO), provides workshops and resources to help faculty teach learning disabled students.

Doing more than what’s required


California legally must fund DRES because of the federal ADA.The ADA rules state funding must compensate for services that support resources provided for students with disabilities in college campuses. Information resources, technologies, physical access and transportation are all examples of services provided in programs at colleges for students with disabilities.However, some colleges go above the basic requirements and provide resources, like counseling, to students.

“The program provides counselors who are not required, but still offered on campus,” Cummins-Prager said. “DRES needs coaches, tutors, mentors, all needs that come from nongeneral funds. The university isn’t required to fund that. I totally get the university’s perspective. They give money to the Learning Resource Center, but disabled students need more time and specially trained tutors.”

DRES provides three different types of counseling to students, Johnson said. For personal issues students are directed to the University Counseling Services, but neither department tracks the number of students who utilize both services.

All students who seek DRES help must participate in an intake appointment, where a counselor assesses their workload and what types of accommodations a particular student needs. A workability program offers career counseling and the Thriving and Achievement Program (TAP), which helps students transition in and out of CSUN and offers strength training, Johnson said.

“Strength training is an assessment of students strengths, because these students are typically told what they’re bad at and not good at,” she said.

Luong thought the counselors were there to tell him what classes and which accommodations could best help him, rather than talk about personal matters, he said.

“To me, DRES is there to inform students,” Luong said. “It’s more paperwork-related.”

Grant Money vs General Fund Money

DRES is one of 11 organizations that fall under the umbrella of CSUN’s Student Affairs. For the 2011-12 academic year allocation was $724,751, according to the general fund budget. The total budget for Student Affairs was $14,420,843.

For services that are not mandated through the ADA or CSU, DRES must find funding through outside grants, which are donated from outside organizations or people, such as Grace Petrie, Cummins-Prager said.

The ADA Handbook defines an accommodation as “any change in the work environment (or instructional setting) or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal opportunities.”

This may include providing or modifying equipment, making facilities accessible and providing readers or interpreters. The 2004 CSU Executive Order 926 delegates the responsibility of how schools comply to these rules.

Since DRES is a legally mandated service, funding would have to come from other organizations in the Student Affairs budget, if it did not receive enough money to cover the services that it’s required to provide, Cummins-Prager said.

That funding provides note-takers, interpreters, class furniture, special seating, extended time in exams and alternate testing formats, which are tailored to each students particular needs, Johnson said.

General counseling, including the intake appointment, is covered by the general fund budget. The workability program and TAP are funded through grants.

From 2000 to 2012, the general budget for the DRES program has decreased from a peak of $934,197 in 2003-2004 to $724,751 in 2011-2012.

About 67 percent of the DRES budget this year, including grants, was used for full-time employees salaries, 15 percent to supplies and services, 13 percent to student assistants and work study and 5 percent to Information Technology, Cummins-Prager said.

“We can’t say we have not been affected by budget cuts,” Cummins-Prager said. “However we have not been affected by budget cuts because of outside funding.”

Grants have helped DRES provide services, such as counseling, testing rooms, library study rooms and software in the study rooms that help students with disabilities study.

In the 2011-12 academic school year, grants provided DRES with a total of $122,922, Cummins-Prager said. Including $50,790 from the Grace Petrie grant, $15,368 from the Leichtman Levin grant and $56,764 from other university funding.

Cummins-Prager said she hopes to expand the services that DRES provides in the future, but knows that budget cuts will likely stop this from happening – unless outside donors decide to help fund projects.

“I want the program to continue to improve by providing workshops to students and a learning center that focuses on students with disabilities,” Cummins-Prager said.

She also wants DRES to offer an academic camp that would prepare high school students with disabilities and encourage them to seek higher education if money became available, she said.

In high school Luong had to figure out where to find aid on his own, and believes guidance could have helped him prepare for college.

Additional reporting by Lissette Talledo and Breanne Paskett.

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