The University of Arizona's Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center was recently recognized as an international model for higher education institutions for students with learning and attention challenges.
While no national organization ranks such programs, Japanese researcher Nobutaka Matsumura, a professor at Japan's Kansai University, set out to complete an international survey of comparable programs in Japan, Australia, Europe and across the U.S.
Matsumura ultimately determined that the UA's SALT Center is distinctive for its established infrastructure, comprehensive offerings, and its work in partnership with university faculty and the UA's Disability Resource Center, or DRC. The DRC serves as a national model for creating an inclusive and equitable campus environment.
"We aspire to be the leading international model and it is a wonderful affirmation that someone in the field is saying that we are," said Rudy M. Molina, Jr., director of the 33-year-old SALT Center. "Although this effort has been in the works for decades, we are finally ready, as an organization, to leverage the opportunity."
The center works with students who have a history of learning and attention challenges as well as those officially diagnosed with learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorders (ASD); providing them with comprehensive, fee-based offerings that include educational planning, tutoring, psychological services and programs that aid in students' social and leadership development.
The fact that the SALT Center exists independently of the DRC, while still working in collaboration with DRC and others, to offer fee-based programs is unique, Matsumura said. His findings are detailed in an article recently published in "Essays and Studies by Members of the Faculty of Letters," a journal for students and scholars published in Japan.
"This formation does not exist in Japan, and I believe it will become a model for Japanese universities in the future," Matsumura said. "I regard the SALT Center as the most comprehensive and ideal model."
The UA center supports more than 550 students with ADHD or learning disabilities, both neurological disorders. Students with such conditions may experience a range of issues that can restrict their progress and success, the National Center for Learning Disabilities reports. Among those issues: difficulties concentrating and in handling assignments and tasks that have deadlines, troubles connecting with peers, feeling disorganized, having self-esteem that is lower than typical, and experiencing feelings of frustration or failure.
The center has enhanced academic support services in recent years, especially for high school students and those with autism spectrum disorder, a student population that is growing on college and university campuses, Molina said.
"Our model is universal in that we are professionals in diagnostics, but also leverage our understanding of the individual," Molina said. "We adjust to the needs of the student."
Matsumura echoed Matsunaga's sentiments.
"I think that the passion of the staff in an organization is the most important thing," he said. "I feel that Rudy Molina and other staff at the SALT Center have the passion and love for students in need of help."