Most new college students say they don’t want a reprise of high school, but rather a brand new world of educational immersion and independent living. So why are so many teens not only unprepared for exactly that but unable to locate the resources put in place for their benefit? Amy and Mike invited educator Perry LaRoque to share strategies for making the most of college support systems.
Find the audio file and show notes for this episode at https://gettestbright.com/making-the-most-of-college-support-systems/.
Amy Seeley 0:04
Welcome everyone. I’m Amy Seeley, president of Seeley Test Pros, helping students to succeed at all kinds of tests from eighth grade to grad school in Cleveland, Ohio.
Mike Bergin 0:12
And I’m Mike Bergin, president of Chariot Learning, helping students with tests, school, and life, based out of Rochester, New York.
Amy Seeley 0:18
Between the two of us today, we have over 55 years of experience at the highest levels of the test preparation and supplemental education industries.
Mike Bergin 0:25
We both love to talk and learn about the latest issues in education, testing and admissions. So let’s get down to tests and the rest. The fascinating topic we want to explore today is making the most of college support systems. But first, let’s meet our special guest Dr. Perry LaRoque.
Amy Seeley 0:41
Dr. Perry LaRoque is the founder and president of Mansfield Hall, an innovative Residential College Support Program for diverse learners. He earned his doctorate in special education from the University of Wisconsin, and has served in a variety of leadership roles serving at risk youth and people with disabilities. Dr. LaRoque is also the co founder of the College Steps program, a nonprofit with a mission of providing post secondary education to students with developmental disabilities in various locations across the East Coast. He has published in several major education journals for his work on educating students with disabilities, and has presented at numerous national and international conferences. He is the author of Taking Flight, which helps parents support non traditional students to succeed during college. Welcome.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 1:24
Thanks so much for having me.
Mike Bergin 1:25
Perry, we’re really glad to have you on the show. The topic that we’re going to tackle together is one that deserves a lot of attention. Before we get into that, your experience in education seems both broad and deep. Can you summarize some of the biggest steps you’ve taken and projects that you’ve been a part of?
Dr. Perry LaRoque 1:45
Yeah, sure. Thanks. Thanks for having me. Well, let me just say that I started off as a special education teacher in California. And after completing my undergrad degree, and it was in California, where I was working with some students, and the was was in a self contained classroom, this was back in the 2000s. And so there was a time of year where they would announce who was going to what college the following year. And I always noticed that with my students, it seemed to be a period of tumult. And, you know, and sadness for them as they saw all these people doing these great things. And for them, they were looking at jobs or where they were going to live the following year. And so I just simply said to one of my fellow teachers wouldn’t it be great if all these kids could go to college to and throughout my career that that question sort of followed me. So, when I went back for my doctorate in in special education, and then eventually it was as a professor. For seven years, I kept thinking about this topic, and seeing both the discrimination that was happening on college campuses, and then students who weren’t able to have that opportunity to attend college. And so, you know, as as part of my work as a professor, I started to look at ways we could welcome students with disabilities more on campus. i participated in creating a college program in Vermont, which serves students with intellectual disabilities, the college Steps program, which now serves students across the East Coast. And then Mansfield Hall, which is a residential college support program for students with autism and other related disabilities. You can think of us as like a super dorm, and we have locations in Burlington, Vermont; Madison, Wisconsin; and Eugene, Oregon, where we help students kind of ease their path into college and sort of get the soft skills out of the way so they can focus on the content of the courses.
Mike Bergin 3:38
That’s fantastic. You definitely encountered students at different points or traveling to college from different places. And I like how you describe that it’s a period of tumult. It’s really a period of tumult for everyone, right. Even the the kids that don’t think it’s going to be a very seamless transition, but it does tend to be does it?
Dr. Perry LaRoque 3:58
Right? Yeah. No, we don’t prepare students enough for college. Because when we think about college, in getting students ready, we’re thinking about tests, and we’re thinking about content, or we’re thinking about AP classes, and are they going to be able to survive the content? In my work as a college professor, and as an advisor, I can tell you that most students who are struggling in courses, it has nothing to do with the content. It has to do with the things that are surrounding them in their lives, whether they’re getting enough sleep or their healthy eating or whether they’re having any sort of social issues on campus. Those are the type of adjustment assessments. Yeah, absolutely. Those are the type of things that really start to impact student’s ability to be successful in college. I’ve just always had a belief in the assumption I think that all educators should believe students are capable of learning. And with that assumption, we can assume that if they’re able to learn in those classrooms, that there are things that are going to impact their ability to learn, you know, it is not necessarily the content in the courses.
Amy Seeley 4:59
So, I love that you’re talking about this idea of adjustment. And I guess the key thing to think about is, in what critical ways life in college differs from the high school experience for students.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 5:10
And in the book Taking Flight that I wrote, it’s the guide to college for diverse learners and non traditional students. The best feedback I’ve gotten from many, many people is that this book should be read by not just students with disabilities, or non traditional students or diverse learners, but all students because it really is meant to do is demystify this college experience, because the transition and the change is so great, that we just kind of assume that our students are going to walk in on their first day and eventually figure it out without giving them sort of the knowledge and the understanding of how college is different. I mean, so students with disabilities, let’s use them for an example to start. They come out of high school with this federally mandated team of people surrounding them, professionals of speech and language pathologists, psychologists, and advocates, OT, PT. I mean, all these people surrounding them to help them through high school. That completely goes away when they get to college. And so that team is no longer supporting them. Well, again, that generally goes away when they get to college. And they have to start over and figure out how are they going to surround themselves with those stakeholders and that support that they had in high school?
Mike Bergin 6:30
It’s huge, because a lot of teens don’t recognize how much others are doing for them. Right? It’s just hard to even know sometimes. I mean, we talk about the classic snowplow parent, just making things easy for their teens by moving ahead and sweeping aside adversity. And then, you know, students arrive in an independent location, and the snowplow isn’t in front of them anymore.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 7:00
Right? Yeah, the helicopter parents, the snowplow parents, I love that phrase. You know, they are now governed by FERPA. So no, they literally can’t do much, you know, snowplowing anymore. And that’s okay. Because there is a great role for those parents. And that is how do they empower the youth? How do they empower their child to take this over? And recently, I was speaking with a group of parents, and they asked me the question, what’s the most important thing we can do right now? I said, stop doing so much. That’s right. Or start having your kids do it. Because on day one, guess what, no one’s going to wake them up. Actually, there’s a chapter in the book called no one is going to wake you up. Yeah, people don’t think about that. But there’s everything else that has to happen after you wake up. But if you’re not going to wake yourself up, I mean, so those those independent living skills, you know, we just start to forget about how important it is for students to start to manage and dictate and advocate in junior year, freshman year, whatever, as soon as possible, so that when they get to college, they’re not looking to mom and dad to start to move the snow out of their way.
Mike Bergin 8:04
That’s fantastic. Now, it’s not like colleges are completely bereft of support systems, correct. Like there are resources that students of every type have access to?
Dr. Perry LaRoque 8:15
This is a horse and water problem, right? I mean, generally, colleges have pretty good support, right? But the support is different from high school, primarily, because in high school, you’re sort of told to go and get support, right? Oh, you seem like you’re having a bad day. Do you want to go talk to the counselor? Right? No one’s gonna do that for you. And in college, most likely, oh, you’re you’re struggling in your writing, you know, you have to go meet with the writing teacher.
Amy Seeley 8:41
That’s basically because students would have a plan in high school, right, like an IEP or 504, that would probably lead a lot of that sort of support.
Mike Bergin 8:49
No, no.Eeven the students that don’t have learning differences or those official supports, you know, they have to check into a homeroom, they have to meet with their counselor on a regular basis. There are check ins.
Amy Seeley 9:01
Dr. Perry LaRoque 9:02
Right, right. Yeah. And in college, I mean, those services, there are writing centers, math labs, disability services, counseling centers. They are on most college campuses. The problem is that we don’t, the students don’t necessarily know how to use those different pieces. In fact, let me just say one thing, because I think this might help sort of present what the problem is, is that one thing that we say at Mansfield Hall, and this is what my VP of enrollment says to all new families, and that is, there are only three questions that should be on a college entrance exam. Do you know when you’re struggling? Do you know where to get help? And three, do you know how to use that help on an ongoing basis? If you answer is no to any one of those questions, you’re in trouble. Because if you don’t know you’re struggling with writing, you don’t know you’re struggling with mental health, there’s nothing you can do about it. If you don’t know where to get the help or you don’t know how to continue to use that help over time, then you’re really going to struggle. So it’s not necessarily whether the support is there; it is whether students and families have the self awareness to understand when they need it and how to get it. And that’s very different.
Mike Bergin 10:08
Exactly, you know, we encounter this all the time when parents who contact us for tutoring for their college students, you know, can you help my teen with writing? Can you help my teen with math? Or, you know, have you checked with the support center? Oh, is there? Is there a place with free tutoring on campus? There is a place where you can get started there. They don’t even know about it. Or it just seems that way when we speak to professionals that work in those centers. They don’t see as many students as they’d like.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 10:43
No, no. And in the book I say very clearly, which support center should you use? All of them are right there. I mean it doesn’t make any sense for a college students not to go in and use a writing center. I mean, everyone needs help with writing. Professors have professional editors edit their papers, you know what I mean? And, and so yeah, absolutely. What college kids need more of in general is coaching. Right? They don’t need tutoring, because a good coach can tell them where the free tutors are in town. Right? Or if they need to pay for tutoring, it’s the coaching. It’s the coaching through those three questions that college students could use the most time with.
Mike Bergin 11:21
That goes back to what Amy said about accountability, right? Like, that’s what an academic coach or an executive function coach can help a student do. And I think what we’re talking about is a lack of executive function, the organization, the will to utilize existing resources, the ability to research what options are available to you, like all of like a whole system of kind of skills that we take for granted. They are foundations of productive and happy adult lives.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 11:54
Right, we actually created a platform called Virtual Hall, and Virtual Hall is able to reach students online across the entire country. And it is coaching tutoring. You know, it’s sort of the whole package that we provide a Mansfield Hall, but just on a much more truncated level. And it’s online. I’ll tell you that about 75 to 90% of the conversations our staff are having with students is not about like, how do I figure out biology? It’s like, how do I get the support to do well in biology? How do I manage my sleep hygiene? How do I manage my healthy eating? You know, I’m really struggling, I haven’t made any friends yet. You know, kicking them in the butt and saying, Go out there and find that anime club, you know, go out there and find something where you can find your people so that you can feel more supported in college?
Amy Seeley 12:38
Well, it’s the recognition that there’s so much more to college than just getting the education, right. It’s all of those skills, which is why we say that going to college or going away to college is so helpful. It’s the experience, which hopefully is going to prepare you for the real world, right? And some students don’t necessarily understand what to do when put in this independent situation. How to do that.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 13:02
Right? Yeah, and most you know, I always kind of say it’s about learning how to do college. Right. You know, there’s there’s much more to it than people think. The book is meant to sort of break it all down kind of like this Insider’s Guide and students who are, you know, I use the phrase non traditional students, which oftentimes covers students who are first generation college students or international students or students who are at risk. They’re at a significant disadvantage. Because if you come from a family who you know has had people attend college in the past, you start to understand what these hidden rules are.
Mike Bergin 13:34
Right? Those people can prepare you in advance. Oh, when you get to school, make sure you do this. And you do that with just a little advanced warning.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 13:43
Yeah. Or even even this classic thing: the professor said that we can’t do any redos on our tests, or on our papers. It’s like a good parent will say, did you go to their office hours and ask politely? Right, yeah. You know most students don’t realize that these rules are sort of, you know, there’s some gray area in all of them.
Amy Seeley 14:01
But I think the point you’re making is a lot of times for those students, you don’t know what you don’t know. And if there is somebody who’s been there before, they’re going to make suggestions of here are the things to look out for, or to reach out for, hopefully, in a way where someone’s suggesting to the student, you should try this, you should do this, as opposed to that person actually doing the work, you know, for the student. Right,?
Dr. Perry LaRoque 14:27
Yes. And in most cases, if you think about it, you know, most high school students are relatively prepared to go sit in a class and take notes and study, right. That is something they’ve been doing, hopefully, by their senior year. So to some extent, that’s not that difficult for them. You know, it’s not that big of a change. If you think about everything else they have to do outside of that. I mean, that is that is 95% of the learning curve in college and as soon as students are walking in on day one, and trying to figure it out the 95% that they weren’t expecting it It just kind of gets the cognitive load there can just be overwhelming for some students 40% of kids drop out of college when they after they start roughly I mean, so it’s not it is very telling 80% of students with disabilities drop out of college. And so I mean, it is that piece that is catching them, not necessarily the content of the courses.
Mike Bergin 15:18
Yeah, it’s really interesting that you bring that up, Perry, because Amy and I speak a lot about the National Student Clearinghouse study how, you know, 62% of students who attend four year school graduate after six years, or within six years. You know it’s a staggering statistic. And I can assure you, Amy and I see where academics are the reason the student doesn’t make it. But there are so many other reasons, so many social emotional reasons, just the challenge of the environment and your point about how 40% of students fail to make it to the second year, a lot of kids don’t make it to Thanksgiving, and that the statistics of the odds are even worse for students with disabilities. Yeah, tell us a bit more about that, and why, you know, students who are coming from non traditional backgrounds are students that are coming with more non traditional needs really have to build better support systems.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 16:24
Yeah. So we talked about just, you know, the, quote, unquote, neurotypical students, right, I mean, and that’s a big learning curve. For students with disabilities, I mean, the amount of services they lose in one year is shocking. In fact, parents are, I’m always amazed by this, because I’ll talk to parents, who are, you know, senior, you have seniors in high school. And I’ll explain to them the difference between the Individual Disabilities Education Act and 504 ADEA. And what they don’t realize is that the only thing that governs colleges is you must provide reasonable accommodations. That is it, right? There’s nothing else and there’s no requirement for strategies or services or supports. And so for a student who is expecting to find those things, and what we’re seeing is more and more colleges, pushing that they have it. But again, we run into problems. One, is it’s not as comprehensive as they had, but they’re also expecting that the students know how to use it. And so when you have a student with a disability come on to campus, my firm belief, they can get an A plus in any class on that college campus, if they have the right support and services that are provided. But that services and supports needs to be created and set up by that student. And or that family in order for them to have it, they just can’t walk into that class and expect that a reasonable extended test taking time is going to solve all of their, you know, learning differences.
Amy Seeley 17:46
When a lot of times I think what we talk about when we’re talking about these kinds of students is just is advocacy, right? There’s such an element of, they have to learn to advocate for themselves. And a lot of times that process of high school, your parents are doing a lot of the advocating, hopefully by the time they graduate from high school, maybe that that shift has occurred where the students assuming it but we cannot assume that when a student goes to college, that they’re ready to advocate for themselves. But that’s a tremendous burden on some of those students as they enter, as you’re saying, but there’s so many other things too, that may be kind of standing in their way.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 18:24
Yeah, and this is where the helicopter parents, the snowplow parents can really be impactful. And you know, the book was written for students. But I knew of course, moms and dads would read it and tell their students what it said, right? So I mean, literally, this is this is this point of how important it is now to be that advocacy coach, right? Where you’re not going to be like, I’m going to call the professor and yell at him for giving you a beat, right? Teach your child how to go to the professor and advocate for a better score, teach your child how to get into those Disability Services Center and push for what they need. They need to learn lessons, you can have their back if things get too hairy, right? But you cannot starting that freshman year, if you haven’t already, you can not be the one that is going to try to drive that train because you are going to be kicked off at very quickly.
Mike Bergin 19:10
Yeah, it’s interesting that many of the pathways for selective college admissions are now putting the burden of self advocacy on the student and you know, like the mom can’t call the admissions office and ask questions, the student has to call and ask the questions right there. That idea that that parents and educators need to be supporting students discovering their own self advocacy skills because they’re going to need them.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 19:42
Yeah. And colleges. Okay, I’ll let you know. On the flip side, colleges need to start understanding that we are seeing a huge increase in diverse learners coming to colleges, and that advocacy, lack of active advocacy and all these soft skills are what is impacting their retention and that’s their number one concern. Yes, colleges also need to start thinking and reviewing their own practices to decide if they want to start to stick their feet in, you know, their heels in the ground and say, Oh, no kids have to do everything themselves when they know that they’re seeing more students who are having troubles with advocacy, and speaking up on their own behalves and start creating systems within the college system to encourage students to advocate and teach them how to do that and teach them how to be expert learners as universal design for learning would say,
Mike Bergin 20:27
Do you imagine that kind of support might be in the form of one of those mandatory intro classes that some schools inflict on students? Where they’re like, you know, this is they do that there are a lot of schools like this. This is a semester long class that every student takes, and we show you around the city and we teach you this. Like a lot of fluff.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 20:52
Yes, they’re great. Sure, we’re still going to be, you know, putting students who are non traditional or diverse learners at a disadvantage, because that is great. There’s no reason not to have that course. I think it’s wonderful. But it’s about that invivo problem solving that our students need the most support with, right? It is that time when everything was going great first semester, second semester, they have a breakup with their significant other, and they just get depressed, and they don’t know what to do about it. Or they miss an exam because of whatever, you know, whatever it is anxiety or, you know, it’s about that in vivo, about someone reaching out and saying, Hey, I noticed that this is happening. Do you need some support? And here’s how to get it. And here’s what to do on campus, there’s generally in a college campus, there is no one to do that. There is zero that doesn’t exist.
Mike Bergin 21:44
Like something that a resident hall RA does.
Amy Seeley 21:49
Maybe the problem there is you’re talking about almost more of a peer, right? I mean, it’s a peer situation. Certainly there ca be really good RAs, but there’s a difference when you’re talking about a peer to peer relationship versus a professional to student, where you feel this is the place I go or who I talk to you.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 22:07
Yeah, yeah. And I think that, you know, we’re seeing more and more colleges start to have more mentorship programs, and it can’t necessarily be unqualified RAs, where it’s seen, you know, by seniors in college, right.
Mike Bergin 22:17
Yeah, that’s a good point. They’re not professionals. They’re in their teens themselves.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 22:21
I mean, the point of college is for students to learn, right? I mean, that’s it. And so colleges job is we’re paying them to help our students learn. And so in some ways, it seems like the investment in having coaches or having independent learning plans, or having helping students monitor their own learning in college, would would be good for all kids, and it would be good for the college as well. And so I do think that there’s more that colleges can do I actually do a lot of training for faculty, where I talk not about what autism is, I talk about how do we utilize the supports on campuses to make students more likely to be successful on campus? Without thinking about what do I do in my classroom? Because, you know, that’s a problem in of itself. But it’s the stuff that happens outside of class that are going to have the biggest impact on student’s ability to do well in the class.
Mike Bergin 23:07
Perry, can you think of any schools or departments within schools that have done this effectively?
Dr. Perry LaRoque 23:15
Yeah, I mean, I think they’re one great place to look, the College Autism Network has put together a really great list of colleges that are focusing on autism., That’s a good place to start just to get a sense of it. The K and W Princeton Review lists colleges that have good learning disability support is something that’s published every year. You know, I’m not going to endorse any, you know, single college, but I’ll tell you that more and more colleges are starting to look at providing these mentorship programs. You know, I’ll give you an example: on your mark Emily Wroclaw at Marquette University; this is a mentorship program. They’re there to help students coach them through these situations and help them find resources on campus. And it’s very effective, because, again, connecting those dots is what these students need more than actually the content of the course. And so I think that colleges are starting to see this. Again, there’s no money for them to do this. So this has to be their own initiative. There’s no law governing them to do it right. And so again, I also think that there needs to be more of a push on colleges to respond to this group of kids and more money for families to have access to pay for the services and supports. Keep in mind if your kid has a disability, and they need something more than just this semester, check in with their disability services coordinator, and they need an ADHD coach. I mean, that can be 100 bucks an hour, right? And so it is greatly discriminatory and prejudicial towards, you know, students who don’t have that kind of money to be able to pay for the supports that they need.
Mike Bergin 24:51
That’s fantastic. You know, Perry, it’s obvious we could talk about making the most of college support systems all day. Unfortunately, we’re out of time. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Dr. Perry LaRoque 25:01
Thank you for having me. It was a great conversation.
Mike Bergin 25:03
If listeners would like to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Dr. Perry LaRoque 25:07
They can go right to my website at https://perrylaroque.com/. And I’ve got lots of information on there, lots of videos to watch, and it will connect you to where you can buy the book. The book is available on Amazon, and so would look forward to interacting with anyone that needs some more support.
Amy Seeley 25:23
Awesome. We hope you enjoyed this discussion as much as we did. Be sure to join us for another fascinating topic and guest on the next Tests and the Rest!
Remember, you can find the audio file and show notes for this episode at https://gettestbright.com/making-the-most-of-college-support-systems/.