Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


Learning Disabilities and Success in Post-Secondary Education: How Students Make Sense of Their Experiences at a Canadian University

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Robert DeBard (Advisor)


The purpose of this research paper was to understand how students with learning disabilities made sense of their experiences in post-secondary education. More specifically, this study aimed to identify what students with learning disabilities perceived as the challenges and successes they encountered in higher education at a university in Ontario. To understand the essence of the of students' experiences, six students with learning disabilities from a post-secondary institution who were in line to graduate were recruited to contribute to this study. Findings indicated that the participants faced two key challenges while at university: They had to cope with parental separation and learn to become more independent as they adapted to the university life; and they had to come to grips with their learning disabilities and deal with preconceptions of parents, peers, and faculty as well as their own in order to succeed in higher education. In terms of success, four themes emerged from the research findings: the influence of family and school personnel motivated the students to enroll in a post-secondary institution; support from faculty, who reduced barriers and made learning more accessible, facilitated the students' positive achievements; strong support through an office of disability services was key in the students' success; and, most importantly, the value of the participants' own determination and desire to succeed was indispensable in their academic journeys.