April 01, 2021


The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences, 15th Edition. By Marybeth Kravets and Imy F. Wax. Princeton Review/PenguinRandomHouse. $31.99.

     At a time when one must be super-super-super careful not to offend the Twitterverse and become a victim of cancel culture, the right form of addressing the inconvenient issues of everyday life is an absolute necessity. Marybeth Kravets and Imy F. Wax, and the folks at Princeton Review, are ahead of the game here: they do not create guides for students with learning difficulties or special needs or, heaven forbid, learning problems. Their K&W Guide has been and continues to be for students with learning differences. This is all a bit of feel-good disingenuousness, of course, since “differences” encompasses such a wide range of meanings. Would someone who reads four times as quickly as the average reader want this book? How about someone who has gone through multiple full-year courses in, say, two months each? Or has been writing code and selling apps since the age of nine? Certainly all those people have “learning differences,” but they are not the audience for The K&W Guide. It is one of those “you know who you are” situations.

     The book’s contents page is, thankfully, not afraid to address the actual families for which Kravets and Wax are writing. It points readers to brief but accurate and well-explained general guidelines for documentation of “a Learning Disability,” “Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),” and “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” and it is families dealing with those intransigent, difficult and emotionally/physically/financially draining conditions for which The K&W Guide has always been useful, and still is.

     The book runs to nearly 750 oversized pages, but families would do well to start at the back, with the authors’ exceptionally useful four-page overview of “Alternative Post-Secondary Options.” This is an alphabetical list of some programs that families may wish to consider outside standard college campuses and curricula – and an excellent list it is. Parents will surely have heard of many of the schools in the main section of the book, even if they need The K&W Guide to know about the specific offerings those colleges have for students with “learning differences.” But families are much less likely to know about, say, “Casa de Amma” in Capistrano, California, a “lifelong residential community for young adults who function independently but require assistance and structure in daily living,” or “Gersh College Experience at Daemen College” in Melville, New York, a “post-secondary, undergraduate program for students with neurobiological disorders like Asperger’s ADHD, OCD, Tourette’s Syndrome, Anxiety or Depression, Autism Spectrum, and Nonverbal Learning disorders.” A phone call to any of these back-of-the-book programs – the authors give phone numbers for all of them – could be a literally life-changing experience for students and parents alike.

     College itself, though, can be and often is a life-changing experience, and the bulk of The K&W Guide is intended to provide information on special programs and services for students with “learning differences” within traditional colleges. The book’s basic layout resembles that of other Princeton Review guides, with colleges given two pages apiece within which data are offered on costs, the student body, admissions requirements, campus life, and more. What The K&W Guide does differently from the other guides, though, is to devote a considerable amount of the available space to “Programs/Services for Students with Learning Difficulties” and a very useful box with simple yes-or-no information on “Accommodations” (nothing to do with residence halls: this listing details what aids are allowed in exams, what sorts of assistive technology are available, whether graduation requirements can be modified as needed, and so on). In addition, a simple, straightforward portion of the layout is used to present “Admissions Info for Students with Learning Differences” at each school, detailing academic requirements and documentation needed and providing contact information for each college so families can get details.

     Small but useful maps show the location of every school in the book – helpful for families concerned about proximity to home for the student and ease of access should parents need to get to campus. And the whole book is arranged alphabetically by state, not by college name, making it easy for parents to focus on individual states or specific regions of the U.S. where they want to consider a college. There is also an alphabetical index for families that do want to look up schools by name.

     The colleges included in The K&W Guide vary from those focused on students with “learning differences” to those with other focuses but with accommodative programs of one sort or another. In the former category, for example, is Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, which “was founded to award bachelor degrees to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other differences.” In the latter category are far more schools, some of them top-notch by any criteria. Boston College and Boston University, for example, both appear in the Massachusetts section of the book, as do Stanford University in the California section, University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, William and Mary in Virginia, and many more top names. Indeed, a look at the alphabetical index can be a good idea before exploring the book’s geographical layout, if only to show families that students with “learning differences” need not be relegated to second-tier schools but have many first-rate opportunities available to them that come with the accommodative policies they need.

     That said, it is important to note that every family’s perception of accommodations needed will be different, and every school makes somewhat different allowances for “learning differences” and therefore offers a somewhat different experience from the ones that others provide. The K&W Guide is therefore an important step in the decision-making process for families, but is scarcely a be-all and end-all: it is not designed to pinpoint the college or alternative program that will be right for any individual student. But it will be a great help to families in limiting the search for the best program to attend – and will provide tremendous reassurance to students and parents alike that there are plenty of choices, plenty of opportunities, in every geographical area of the country, no matter how an individual’s “learning differences” may be defined. That reassurance alone makes The K&W Guide an exceptionally valuable resource.

No comments:

Post a Comment