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Learning Differences Program

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We are very pleased that you are considering Mercyhurst University’s Learning Differences Program. We are sure that you will experience great intellectual and personal development as you work toward graduation with the help of our award-wining programs that have been recognized by K & W Guide and Peterson’s Guide to Exemplary Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities.

Our Learning Differences Program offers students many opportunities for academic enrichment and growth. One of the many programs created for the first-year student is our Summer Program. Participation in the Summer Program involves living on campus for three weeks, earning three college credits, and developing a higher level of academic skills and abilities. Our Summer Program will challenge you, give you more confidence, provide you with knowledge about the campus, and help you feel at home at Mercyhurst. Many of the friendships you make through the Summer Program will last throughout your college years and beyond.

During the academic year, our program provides an individualized action plan of advising, tutoring, mentoring, counseling and networking for each student to ease the transition from high school to college life. You will find that being a part of the Learning Differences Program is an extremely rewarding experience that can seldom be duplicated!

Mercyhurst University is committed to equal educational opportunity and full participation for students with disabilities. Students with disabilities who wish to receive accommodations must present appropriate documentation to the Director of the Learning Differences Program. This documentation is required from a licensed psychologist or a medical or professional equivalent. The University does not provide nor pay for diagnostic testing. High School IEP and 504 plans are not considered sufficient documentation. Instead, the psycho-educational evaluation must provide information on specific functional limitations and demonstrate the need for specific accommodations. Learn more about the differences between high school and college accommodations for students with disabilities.

All qualified students with disabilities are eligible to receive, free of charge, academic adjustments and auxiliary aids as required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

History of the Learning Differences Program

The Learning Differences Program (LDP) at Mercyhurst University was inaugurated approximately 28 years ago at the urging of Sister Maura Smith, RSM '48. Since service to students with educational and economic needs is integral to the Mercy tradition, helping students with special needs and tending to diverse learners was a natural outgrowth of the University Mission. At the time of its inception, the Mercyhurst Learning Differences Program was one of the smaller programs for the learning disabled nationwide and was the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.

This program was truly visionary. The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted seven years after Mercyhurst began providing help to students with special needs and diverse learning styles. Over the years, the LDP has evolved to provide accommodations to students with physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activity.

Twelve students comprised the inaugural class in 1986 when the program began under the direction of Dr. Barbara Weigert, professor of education, and later assisted by Tina King. In 1998, Dianne Rogers served as Director of the Learning Differences Program at Mercyhurst. Rogers worked in both public and private schools with populations of individuals with special needs, including students with sensory disabilities, physical disabilities, social and emotional disturbances, and learning disabilities prior to her involvement with the Autism Spectrum population. In 2004, Elaine Ruggiero began serving as the Assistant Director of the Program. In 2014, she assumed the Director’s position.

With the introduction of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) in 2008, Rogers began providing social and academic support to individuals with Asperger Syndrome and high functional individuals on the Autism Spectrum. Three years later, Brad McGarry became the Coordinator of the AIM Program. The Program has been renamed Autism/Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM).

Since 1986, the LDP has guided more than 650 Level II students to become key contributors in their academic disciplines. Graduates from the LDP are teachers, counselors, hotel administrators, business executives and professionals throughout the legal and criminal justice systems as well as other professional careers.

Mission Statement

Our mission is to identify and reduce physical, programmatic and attitudinal barriers and collaborate with faculty, staff, and administrators in addressing effective participation, learning needs, academic performance, and retention of students so that students’ opportunities for achievement may be equalized while supporting academic integrity.

In order to assure equal access for students with disabilities, the Learning Differences Program provides reasonable accommodations to qualified students in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This program extends those services mandated by law to provide support for the cognitive, affective, and socio-cultural dimensions of learning.

Program Levels

Level I

All qualified students with disabilities are eligible to receive, free of charge, academic adjustments and auxiliary aids as required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These services include:

  • Testing accommodations
  • Assistance technology, such as Kurzweil Personal Reader 3000
  • Peer tutors

Level II

Level II services are available to students with disabilities who wish or need a more structured program than Level I. Level II students pay an additional fee for services that go beyond those required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Level II services include but are not limited to:

  • Summer Program prior to start of the Freshman year
  • Weekly meeting with a Academic Counselor
  • Individual assistance throughout the student's college career
  • Mediation with faculty and staff with attention to specific learning needs
  • Assignment of carefully selected note takers and tutors
  • Coordinated efforts for appropriate testing accommodations that include extended testing time, readers and scribes and a quiet, alternate location
  • Midterm Progress and Grade Reports
  • Priority class registration
  • Drop-in assistance
  • Practical assistance to help students navigate through curriculum pathways
  • Social activities

How to Apply

The Learning Differences Program provides special services for students with diagnosed learning disabilities. In order to receive these services, qualified applicants must also meet the academic standards required for admission to Mercyhurst University. 

Space is limited within the Learning Differences Program so early application is encouraged.

Any student who wishes to initiate the process of review for admission to the Learning Differences Program must submit the following documentation:

  • Recent psychological evaluation including WAIS scores administered within the last three years
  • A written statement from a licensed psychologist, learning disabilities specialist or educational professional documenting the student's learning disability
  • Completed Application for the Learning Differences Program
  • Completed Teacher Recommendation

Learning Differences Application

Teacher Recommendation Form


Admission to Mercyhurst University

Applicants should present appropriate documentation along with their college application directly to the Admissions Office. Apply to Mercyhurst University.

Phone: 1-800-825-1926 ext. 2202 or 814-824-2202



Office of Learning Differences
Location: Old Main Room 314
Phone: (814) 824-3017
Fax: (814) 824-2589
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Elaine Ruggieroeruggerio
Director of Learning Differences
Location: Old Main 314A
Phone: (814) 824-3048




Lori Kaveney lkaveney
Secretary of Learning Differences and AIM
Location: Old Main 314
Phone: (814) 824-3017




Rebecca Ruch
Academic Counselor
Location: Old Main 314
Phone: (814) 824-2139

Nancy Wagner
Academic Counselor
Location: Old Main 313
Phone: (814) 824-2621

Jeanette Long
Assistive Technologist/Academic Counselor
Location: Old Main 313A
Phone: (814) 824-3749