To PAL or not to PAL?
BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO // DEC. 14, 2015 //
The Program for Advancement of Learning (PAL) has been making various changes to its program in the last few years.
Along with a recent change in directors, it is rumored that PAL has been considering implementing a tiered pricing system and providing iPads to every student admitted to the PAL program at Curry.
Director of PAL, Laura Vanderberg, said, “I’m not sure we can say what the changes would be because we haven’t even started down those paths yet….If best serving students is creating a tiered model, then faculty will be committed to that.”
There is a noticeable decrease in students who stick with the PAL program all four years. Approximately 20 percent of each incoming class (roughly 130 students) are enrolled in PAL. Between all sophomore, junior and senior students there are about 190 students total, nearly the same amount as the freshman class alone.
Vanderberg said that the decrease in students after the first year is due to students becoming independent and realizing it is “developmentally appropriate” to get an education without relying on PAL.
“Our goal is to foster students to go to independence,” Vanderberg said. “We want for them to be able to function without us.”
The PAL program began in 1970 and was the first program in the United States to serve students with learning disabilities and attention deficit in higher education. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act legally obligated colleges to include students with disabilities in higher education, thus creating disability services.
Having disability services are a legal obligation, while including programs like PAL, are up to individual colleges. That all schools have disability services, according to Vanderberg, has made the marketplace much more competitive.
Programs at other schools may have a single staff or faculty member with a master’s or doctorate. Most programs are staffed by peer professionals, not by faculty, which is the big differentiator between Curry College and most other schools.
“We are still the only program in the country with a faculty body of professors who have doctorates and master’s degrees in areas that inform how we understand learning and cognition,” Vanderberg said.
The main question for students considering a PAL program is, who do you want to be taught by?
For sophomore community health and wellness major Sarah Elste, PAL was the deciding factor in choosing Curry College. She describes PAL as “an advisor on steroids.”
“The idea of PAL, at least for me, was that I was going to be in it until I didn’t need it,” Elste said. “My goal is to get out of PAL.”
Nicole Karan, a senior communication major, has been in the PAL program all four years. Karan has never considered leaving PAL saying, “If it wasn’t for PAL, I would be struggling with trying to keep up with my classes to this day.”
Junior communication major Jaclyn Clapps, a three-year PAL student, said she has considered leaving the program, but decided not to because she likes being able to schedule meetings with an advisor whenever she needs.
Priscilla Carson, a freshman psychology major, expressed a different opinion of PAL, saying that she doesn’t feel that the program has lived up to the hype during summer PAL.
“The way they advertise it makes it sound a lot better than it actually is and the amount of help they say they will provide is not given,” she said.
Cost is also a big factor in whether or not students choose to stick with PAL. For example, Carson felt that the program is too expensive considering PAL students meet with their advisor twice a week and don’t receive a full extent of help.
Clapps disagreed. “It all depends on whether or not you use it. If you don’t think you need it anymore, then you don’t have to pay the extra money for it.”
However, Elste said that even after dropping the PAL program, students still have access to the accommodations without the cost. “Once in PAL, you’re kind of always in PAL — even if you’re not paying.”
Vanderberg believes that the program will only get better with time.
“Curry should be very proud of PAL,” she said. “It precedes civil rights movements in the United States. It was revolutionary in including students with disabilities and that’s something we can be very proud of.”