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About the Authors
Susan A. Vogel, Ph.D. is Distinguished Research Professor Emerita at Northern Illinois University. Her current research has focused on outcomes for college-able adults with learning disabilities across the lifespan and in addition, since the mid-1990’s, she has focused on factors contributing to campus climate for adults with disabilities in higher education and how to enhance the campus climate to enable students with disabilities to achieve greater academic success. She published five books, including most recently Learning Disabilities in Higher Education and Beyond: An International Perspective, and 75 articles, and presented at more than 100 international conferences. She served, or presently serves as journal editor, member of advisory and editorial boards, including the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, and consultant regarding accommodations on statewide, national, and international examinations. In recognition of the international impact of her research over the last 30 years, Dr. Vogel was elected President of the International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities. She now spearheads the service and research initiative offered by AHEAD called ACCESS, Assessment of Campus Climate to Enhance Student Success. She can be reached via email at:
Janet K. Holt, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Educational Research and Evaluation at Northern Illinois University where she teaches graduate courses in educational statistics. Her research areas include: methodological issues regarding growth modeling, multilevel modeling, and multivariate analyses and applications of these methods to studies of developmental change, language and literacy, intervention design, and math and science achievement in women and in underrepresented minorities. She has over 20 academic publications and 50 presentations in these areas. Janet is past president of the Mid-Western Educational Research Association and has been very involved in the Educational Statisticians and Multiple Linear Regression Special Interest Groups of the American Educational Research Association. She reviews for many journals and is currently on the editorial boards of the Educational Researcher and the Journal of Advanced Academics. She can be reached by email at:

Steven R. Sligar, Ed.D. is an assistant professor and director of the graduate program in vocational evaluation in the Department of Rehabilitation Studies at East Carolina University. He received his Ed.D. from Northern Illinois University in Adult Education. His research interests include career assessment, issues of access, especially Web site and campus accessibility, and administration of programs for persons with disabilities. He conducted the qualitative analysis of the comments for this study and is involved with the new Assessment of Campus Climate to Enhance Student Success (ACCESS) project offered by AHEAD. He can be reached by email at:

Elizabeth Leake is a postsecondary education service professional with more than 15 years of experience in public relations and information technology administration. As an assistive technology advocate, she served as the chair of the Northern Illinois University Presidential Commission on Persons with Disabilities and was a founding member of the NIU-ACT (Assistive Computing Technologies) grassroots initiative. Leake developed the Assistive Technology Chamber (AT Chamber)—a technology environment designed to help postsecondary students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD access technology. An elected representative to shared governance for more than eight years. Leake never missed an opportunity to add disability awareness to any agenda. From 2002 to 2008 Leake served on the Illinois Board of Higher Education Web Accessibility Consortium where she was instrumental in establishing best practices for Illinois postsecondary schools. She can be reached via email at:

Metacognitive and Affective Factors of College Students With and Without Learning Disabilities

Cathy W. Hall

East Carolina University
Raymond E. Webster

Greenville Psychological Resources

Metacognitive and attitudinal factors in the academic performance of college students with and without disabilities were assessed and compared. GPA, metacognitive knowledge and practice, resiliency, self-efficacy, locus of control, and need for achievement were examined. Similarities as well as notable differences were found between the LD (N=27) and non-LD (N=28) groups in perceptions and approaches to academic tasks. The LD group indicated a higher level of initiative than the non-LD group, which may be one of the factors helping contribute to their achievement. While the resiliency factor of initiative was higher for the LD group, self-efficacy in regard to coursework was significantly lower than that of the non-LD group. Even though by measures of aptitude and GPA the students with LD were not significantly different from their peers without LD, many indicated self-doubt about not being able to perform as well in academic coursework as their non-LD cohorts.

The term learning disability (LD) encompasses a relatively broad group of learning difficulties, involving a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes presumed to be related to a central nervous system dysfunction. The disorder creates problems in speaking, listening, writing, reading, and/or mathematics, and manifests in a severe discrepancy between apparent potential for learning and level of achievement (Lerner, 2000). It is estimated that more than 5% of school-age children have a learning disability and that their disability accounts for roughly half of the total number of students identified by public schools as needing special education (Hallahan & Kaufman, 1997).

Students with learning disabilities frequently experience a multitude of difficulties throughout their academic careers. They often face limitations in strategic knowledge and self-monitoring that can lead to academic difficulties (Allsopp, Minskoff, & Bott, 2005; Lerner, 2000). In addition, they typically encounter problems in motivation, attributions, self-esteem, and affective responses that can further impair academic difficulties (Borkowski, Carr, Pellinger, & Pressley, 1990; Borkowski, Johnston, & Reid, 1987; Borkowski & Murthukrisha, 1992). Beyond academic challenges, students with LD may find themselves dealing with the shortcomings of the system, including access to services to postsecondary services, documentation requirements, and transition support from secondary to postsecondary (Gregg, 2007).

Borkowski and his colleagues (Borkowski et al., 1990; Day & Borkowski, 1987) proposed an integrated model of achievement that included executive functioning. Executive functioning focused on two distinct dimensions: metacognition and affective factors. In this model metacognition encompasses self-knowledge of learning strategies and the ability to use this knowledge in an efficient and effective manner. Ongoing self-regulation and monitoring of metacognitive strategies is necessary for this component to be effective. Closely aligned with the metacognitive is the affective component. Increased feelings of self-efficacy reinforce self-regulation and the use of cognitive strategies, which in turn strengthen self-esteem, motivation, and also lead to attributing success and failures to their own efforts. Through bi-directional relationship between metacognitive and affective factors strategic knowledge becomes related to self-efficacy (Borkowski, 1992; Borkowski et al., 1990).

Borkowski et al. (1990) proposed a causal, bi-directional link between these two factors. That is, when a student becomes more efficient in academic self-regulation, his or her self-efficacy begins to change as well. Self-efficacy in this context refers to the expectancy of how competently an individual will be able to perform a task (Bandura, 1997). If a student believes he/she will be able to perform academic tasks successfully, motivation increases. Increased motivation further strengthens the metacognition regulation and monitoring, which in turn leads to attributing successes to self-efforts and establishing a more internal locus of control with regard to academic successes.

Successes as well as failures in academic endeavors can be attributed to internal factors such as ability or effort, or to external factors such as of luck or help from others. A low perception of self-efficacy along with negative attributions frequently undermine academics (Butler, 1999; Butler, Elaschuk, & Poole, 2000). According to Palladino, Poli, Masi, and Marcheschi (2000), competence improves through effort, and when students begin to enjoy learning and realize their own role in their successes, they develop an internal locus of control. This leads to attribution of success and failure to effort and experiencing feelings of self-efficacy. Research suggests that students in LD often face problems with both of these areas (Covington, 1992; Lerner, 2000).

Students with LD have been found to report lower levels of self-esteem, experiencing less emotional support, and having greater academic and personal-emotional adjustment dysfunctions than their peers without LD (Brinckerhoff, Shaw, & McGuire, 1993; Hill, 1996; Stolowitz, 1995). Feelings of social isolation and not fitting in with others may also present barriers (Hill, 1996; Reiff, Gerber, & Ginsberg, 1993, 1997). Limited protective factors that serve to aid in resiliency coupled with adverse experiences may serve to restrict and weaken academic performance for students with learning disabilities.

Due to the factors noted above, it is not surprising that have lower rates of postsecondary school attendance (Henderson, 2001; Madaus & Shaw, 2006; Wagner et al., 2005). Despite variations in the number of students with LD responded to pursue a postsecondary education, the overall consensus is that this group of college students is underrepresented. While there has been a slight increase in the number of students with LD who transition to community colleges since late 1980s to early 2000 (up from 20% to 23%), but the number of students with LD who go on to a four-year institution is around 11%. (Wagner et al., 2005) According to the National Longitudinal Transition Study – 2, 76.7% of high school students with LD expected to get some type of postsecondary education when surveyed, but only 19% were attending postsecondary school (Newman, 2005). Thus, although students with LD represent the largest group of college freshmen with documented disabilities (National Center for Education Statistics, 2005), they are faced with many challenges in pursuing postsecondary education (Gregg, 2007).

In a 10-year longitudinal study, Murray, Goldstein, Nourse, and Edgar (2000) found that students with LD were still less likely to attend any form of postsecondary school and were less likely to have graduated from postsecondary programs. Only 2.4% of individuals with LD had graduated from a four-year college compared to 45.5% of their high school peers without a disability.

Significant differences in metacognitive and affective factors have been reported during elementary and secondary schools between students with and without learning difficulties (Borkowski, et al., 1987; Palladino et al., 2000; Papetti et al., 1992). Palladino et al. (2000) found significant differences with metacognitive skills, internal attributions of effort related to personal success or failure, and self-reported depressive symptomatology, with the students with LD showing more difficulty in these areas than their counterparts without LD. As mentioned, the reciprocal influence between metacognitive and affective factors can undermine the ability to succeed academically. The question is how these metacognitive and affective factors affect students with LD who do pursue a higher education degree at a four-year college or university compare to their college counterparts who do not have a learning disability.

The differences between high school and college are many, and reflect major shifts from external to internal controls (e.g., independent living, class time, study time) and from more personalized attention to being one of many (e.g., class size 25-35 students to upward of 100 or more students in a class). In addition, there is a major shift from the public school maintaining the responsibility of finding and serving students with special needs to the college environment where the student takes on this responsibility (Wolanin & Steele, 2004).

College presents major adjustments to all students but especially to the student with a learning disability. As posited by Field, Sarver, and Shaw (2003), students with LD at the postsecondary level need to become more self-determined in order for them to be academically successful. At the postsecondary level students take on the responsibility of developing and being aware of academic goals as well as the ability to use feedback to evaluate their performance relative to the academic goals they have adopted.

Given the smaller numbers of students with LD who pursue postsecondary education, the present study addressed the question: Are there differences in metacognitive and affective factors among college students with learning disabilities in comparison to their college peers without LD?

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