by Adam R. Lalor and Manju Banerjee

Given the low rate of college completion for students with disabilities, it is possible that traditional student support services and accommodations may not be fully meeting their needs. Limited research on the efficacy of traditional interventions (Madaus et al. 2016) highlights the need for new and collaborative ways to engage, support, and successfully graduate these students.  Academic advising (AA) is ubiquitous in higher education.  According to Light (2001), “good advising is the single most underestimated element of a successful college experience” (para. 5).  Advisors are tasked with a broad range of responsibilities, from imparting the ideals of higher education to facilitating advisees’ academic and career goal development (O’Banion, 2012).  According to the NACADA, an association for academic advisors (2006), advisors assist students as they “craft a coherent educational plan based on assessment of abilities, aspirations, interests, and values” (¶ 10).  Essentially, a set of courses is being selected to meet the individual needs of the students while simultaneously ensuring that the institution upholds the curricular expectations and obligations. Given the individualized and personal nature of the advisor-advisee relationship, it is not surprising that the research points to the significant impact AA can have on student retention (McArthur, 2005).

Academic advisors are particularly well positioned to serve students with disabilities because the advising process is future-oriented (Habley et al., 2012).  Conversely, DS is often perceived as focused on “functional limitations,” and, for many students, sought out in response to negative situations (e.g., a failed test or a failed course).  Given this perceived difference between AA and DS, it is conceivable that a student would find it much easier to meet with an academic advisor than to meet with DS professional.

Generally, little direct interaction takes place between DS professionals and advisors beyond one-off professional development workshops.  We believe that this must change and call for greater collaboration between DS professionals and advisors.  As such, we call for colleges and universities to adopt a model of academic advising that can be used to collect key data about student abilities.  Given barriers to disability disclosure (e.g., concerns about stigma and discrimination; Hartman-Hall & Haaga, 2002), decreasing emphasis on disability documentation in the determination of accommodations (AHEAD, 2012), and the ubiquitous nature and positioning of AA, academic advising offers an optimal setting for (a) disability screening, (b) the provision of beyond access services and (c) making referrals to appropriate campus services (e.g., DS, student services, counseling, ADA coordinator).

The hybrid model of AA (D’Alessio & Banerjee, 2016) is one model through which advisors, with the support of DS providers, can gain valuable insight about students.  The hybrid model of AA combines intrusive advising practices and components of academic coaching.  Key elements that define the hybrid model of advising include:

  • Strong advisor-advisee relationship,
  • Assessment of postsecondary readiness,
  • Establishing clear goals,
  • Concrete action steps, and
  • Student self-accountability.

Through greater collaboration and partnership, we believe that the outcomes for postsecondary students with disabilities can be improved.  We encourage our colleagues in both DS and AA to adopt the hybrid advising model and to consider ways in resources and expertise can be pooled to ensure that students with disabilities are provided optimal chances for postsecondary success.

NOTE:  For a more in-depth look at the hybrid model of academic advising, check out the D’Alessio and Banerjee’s (2016) article in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability:


AHEAD. (2012). Supporting accommodation requests: Guidance on documentation practices. Retrieved from

D’Alessio, K. A., & Banerjee, M. (2016). Academic Advising as an Intervention for College Students with ADHD. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 29(2), 109-121.

Habley, W. R., Bloom, J. L., & Robbins, S. (2012). Increasing persistence: Research-based strategies for college student success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hartman-Hall, H. M., & Haaga, D. A. (2002). College students’ willingness to seek help for their learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 25(4), 263-274.

Light, R. J. (2001, March 2). The power of good advice for students. Chronicle of Higher Education, B11.

Madaus, J. W., Gelbar, N., Dukes, L. L., III, Lalor, A. R., Lombardi, A., Kowitt, J., & Faggella-Luby, M. N. (2016, September 15). Literature on postsecondary disability services: A call for research guidelines. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Advance online publication.

NACADA. (2006). NACADA concept of academic advising. Retrieved from:

O’Banion, T. (2012). Be advised. Community College Journal, 83(2), 42-47.

Dr. Lalor is Lead Education Specialist at Landmark College with more than a decade of experience in higher education administration. Broadly, Dr. Lalor focuses on raising awareness of postsecondary opportunities for individuals with disabilities and including disability within the discourse of diversity.

 Dr. Banerjee is Vice President of Educational Research and Innovation at Landmark College. Dr. Banerjee has over 29 years of experience in the field of learning disabilities, ADHD, and postsecondary disability services. She is a certified diagnostician and teacher-consultant on learning disabilities.

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