Mental illness most often strikes individuals during their late teens and early twenties, at which time many are students whose education is then interrupted by the onset of their illness. Returning to college after an extended absence caused by mental illness can be difficult, if not impossible, without the availability of educational support services.
College of San Mateo's Transition to College program has been highly successful in supporting individuals with psychological disabilities to attend college and achieve academic, vocational and/or personal goals. The program's unique approach combines special emphasis instruction, educational accommodations and peer support to assist students to succeed in college. Traditionally, the attrition rate for individuals with psychological disabilities has been exceptionally high as a result of anxiety, low stress tolerance, lack of academic and social skills, and low self-esteem. The Transition to College program, which was established in Spring 1991, has successfully reversed this trend at College of San Mateo; the program boasts a retention rate of 83 percent.
Students Find New Hope
Students in the program are individuals who have severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and manic depression. These students have been identified by community agencies working with the college and referred to the Transition to College counselor or case manager. The majority are unemployed and receiving disability assistance. Most have been ill for more than 10 years and have been hospitalized repeatedly, including lengthy stays at long-term hospitals for up to one year at a time. Seventy-five percent had attempted college unsuccessfully prior to enrolling in the program and had abandoned any hope of achieving educational or career goals.
Thus far the Transition to College program has served more than 1000 individuals over a period of ten years. Approximately 100 students are presently active in the program each semester.
Accommodations Offset Limitations Presented by Psychological Disabilities
As part of a larger, established program for students with disabilities at College of San Mateo, the Transition to College program provides students with psychological disabilities individualized accommodations that offset limitations presented by their disability, which might otherwise affect their ability to succeed in college. These accommodations vary according to the needs of each individual and are arranged for or provided by Transition to College staff or peer counselors.
Accommodations and services
Special Class Sections, Counseling, and Peer Support Provide a Safe Re-Entry to College
Students in the Transition to College program experience a safe beginning, or re-entry, to college through attendance in courses on college orientation and study skills, disability management, and peer counseling; these are all specially designed with the needs of individuals with psychological disabilities in mind. The students report that the special class sections are most helpful in providing encouragement and support and in developing their self-confidence in the college environment. As a result of the classes, staff have observed student improvement in the following areas:
Additionally, students in the program are advised and encouraged by counselors, educational case managers and peer counselors familiar with their disability who maintain liaison with their community therapists and social workers. Weekly support groups and study labs led by peers and staff provide additional support that focuses on mastering the college environment. These support services continue as students mainstream into general college courses.