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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. Our Program offers two (2) levels of services for students with learning, physical and/or sensory disabilities and who provide current documentation of a diagnosed disability. All qualified students with disabilities (Level 1) are eligible to receive, free of charge, academic adjustments and auxiliary aids as required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Program’s mission is to identify and reduce physical, programmatic and attitudinal barriers for students so that their opportunities for achievement may be equalized while supporting academic integrity.

For students who want or need a more structured program than Level 1, they may enroll in Level 2 services which provides additional academic support. There is an additional fee for services that go beyond those required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The cost of the Level 2 services for the 2016-17 year is $2450. 

One of the programs created for the first-year Level 2 student is our Summer PASS Program. Participation in the PASS Program involves living on campus for three weeks, earning three college credits, and developing a higher level of academic skills and abilities. Our PASS Program will create confidence and provide knowledge about the campus, allowing for the student to adjust more smoothly into the academic year at Mercyhurst. Many of the friendships that are created through the Summer PASS Program will last throughout the college years and beyond.

In order to receive these services, qualified applicants must first meet the academic standards required for admission to Mercyhurst University. Any student who wishes to receive academic accommodations for their disability must present appropriate documentation to the Director of the Learning Differences Program.  This documentation includes the student’s achievement test scores and psycho-educational evaluation from a licensed psychologist or a medical or professional equivalent. It must include information on the student’s diagnosis, specific functional limitations and demonstrate the need for specific accommodations.

The High School IEP and 504 plans are NOT considered sufficient documentation. Learn more about the differences between high school and college accommodations for students with disabilities.

History of the Learning Differences Program

The Learning Differences Program (LDP) at Mercyhurst University was inaugurated nearly 30 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 of 1990 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 learning, physical, medical and/or sensory disability impairments 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 had worked with populations of individuals with special needs, including students with sensory disabilities, physical disabilities, social and emotional disturbances, and learning disabilities, in addition 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.

The introduction of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) in 2008, under the auspices of the Learning Difference Program, 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 reorganized and is named Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM).

Since 1986, the LDP has guided more than 680 Level 2 students to achieve academic growth and success. These graduates are teachers, counselors, hotel administrators, business executives and professionals throughout the legal and criminal justice systems as well as many other professional careers. The LDP has been recognized by The K&W Guide and Peterson’s Guide for Students with Disabilities as an exemplary program for students with learning disabilities.

Mission Statement

Our mission is to identify and reduce physical, programmatic and attitudinal barriers for students with disabilities. Collaboration with faculty, staff, and administrators addresses 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. The Level 2 program extends those services mandated by law.

Program Levels

Level 1: 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 of extended time in a quiet location
  • Assistive technology, such as Kurzweil Personal Reader 3000
  • Access to peer tutors provided by the University’s Director of Tutoring

Level 2: Level 2 services are available to students with disabilities who wish or need a more structured program than Level I. During the academic year, the Level 2 student is provided an individualized action plan of advising, tutoring, mentoring, counseling and networking in order to help ease the transition from high school to college life. Level 2 students pay an additional fee for services that go beyond those required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These services include but are not limited to:

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

 

How to Apply

With appropriate documentation, all qualified students with disabilities are eligible to receive, free of charge, reasonable accommodations and academic adjustments in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

In order to receive these services, qualified applicants must first meet the academic standards required for admission to Mercyhurst University. Once the student has confirmed with the University, it is recommended that a June date (24th or the 27th) be selected for Freshmen Orientation rather than an August date (5th or 18th). 

In addition, early application to the Learning Differences Program is encouraged. While SAT or ACT scores are NOT required for admission to the University, it is recommended these scores be included in your LDP profile (e.g. SAT [school code 2410] or ACT [school code 3629]). These scores are useful for determining the student’s placement in appropriate Fall courses and should be forwarded to the Admissions Office.

Any student who wishes 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:

  • Recent psychological evaluation including achievement and 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 diagnosis, specific functional limitations and demonstrate the need for specific accommodations.
  • Completed Application for the Learning Differences Program
  • Completed Teacher Recommendation(s)

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

 

Staff

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

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