- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

BLACKSBURG, Va. — The college classroom scene is a familiar one: young adults in flip-flops and baseball caps, some scribbling notes, others napping.

Evelyn Scruggs, a student sitting near the front, is among the more attentive, filling an entire page with notes. But, by the time she leaves, she won’t remember the lecture topic or one word she wrote.

Miss Scruggs, 19, has attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder and related short-term memory loss. Like everyone attending this mock class, she’s hoping it will give her tools to balance her disability with her dream of a college degree.

The students get pointers on navigating wheelchairs over hilly terrain, finding note takers and deciding whether to “come out” to peers about less-obvious disabilities — tips experts say are vital as administrators face swelling numbers of disabled students.

About 6 million Americans receive special-education services, designated for students whose mental or physical limitation affects their learning, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Increasingly, such students are aiming for degrees: 11.3 percent of undergraduates nationwide reported a disability during the 2003-04 academic year, compared with 7.7 percent during the 1989-90 school year, according to the most recent department statistics.

Special education has shifted in the past decade from getting students to functional levels on basics such as reading in favor of encouraging them to move to advanced levels of study and tackle more complex subjects, said Lynda Van Kuren, a spokeswoman for the Council for Exceptional Children.

“With special-education services and transition planning, they are succeeding at a higher level than ever before,” she said.

But college challenges remain, from living independently to coping with the sudden loss of the family, teachers and specialists who have molded their educations.

Of disabled college students who began college during the 1995-96 school year, only 15 percent had obtained a bachelor’s degree by 2001, compared with 29.8 percent of their nondisabled peers, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

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