Endowment supports ECU program for students with learning disabilities

A large endowment from the Harold H. Bate Foundation will support an East Carolina University program for students with learning disabilities.

The Harold H. Bate Foundation has pledged $333,000 over five years to endow a distinguished professorship for Project STEPP (Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships) in the ECU College of Education. The program pools community and university resources to provide academic, social and life-skills support for students with identified specific learning disabilities who have shown the potential to succeed in college.

Dr. Sarah Williams, associate professor and Project STEPP director, said the program helps students “who have historically fallen through the cracks in terms of university access and retention.”

The program boosts STEPP students through guidance in the transition from high school to college. It includes courses in self-advocacy, time management, study skills and note taking. Participants have individualized plans including set study hall hours and assistance from a network of advisers, mentors, assistive technology specialists, tutors, counselors, instructors and other experts.

The extra attention is getting results, Williams said.  “The students…are holding their own and doing well.”

“We have a strong retention rate…stronger than the university retention rate in general, and remembering these students weren’t even supposed to be here, that’s saying something,” she said.

The program’s success has attracted attention in Chapel Hill. STEPP staff members have been asked to work with the UNC System to implement customized learning differences programs at other universities in North Carolina.

Beyond its success in student retention, the ECU STEPP program is unique because it is affordable.

Williams said that many university-level programs exist to help students with learning disabilities, “…whole colleges established and organized around teaching individuals with learning disabilities.” The problem is that “many of them are private colleges and very, very pricey,” she said. The ECU program is offered at no additional cost beyond the normal university fees and tuition.

“Nationally, we have not found other programs that provide this comprehensive level of support to students who are very deserving and very capable of being successful in the college setting without any additional cost,” she said.

“That piece, not charging students extra, is part of our foundation and not something we’re interested in compromising on.”

The Bate Foundation endowment will help keep the STEPP program from charging extra. The $333,000 commitment will translate to even more funding, because the State of North Carolina matches $1 for every $2 donated to endowed professorships. That could result in a $500,000 endowment for Project STEPP.

For additional information about the STEPP program, contact Williams at (252) 327-1101 or williamssar@ecu.edu. The program’s web site is available online at http://www.ecu.edu/cs-educ/stepp/index.cfm.

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The Bate Foundation has contributed more than $3 million to ECU. It was founded through the generosity of Harold H. Bate, a philanthropist, investor and retired lumber executive to enhance education, youth and recreation and quality of life for the communities of Craven, Pamlico and Jones counties and East Carolina University.

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