Called the TRAC Project, or Trajectories Related to ADHD in College, the study recognizes that as increasing numbers of young adults with ADHD attend college, there are few guidelines for clinically managing the condition on college campuses. With the aim of helping to develop practices for assessment and treatment that can be used on campuses, the five-year study will explore how ADHD impacts the educational, cognitive, psychological, social and vocational functioning of college students.
URI Psychology Professor Lisa L. Weyandt, who is nationally and internationally recognized for her research on ADHD, is working with psychologists Dr. Arthur D. Anastopoulos of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Dr. George J. DuPaul of Lehigh University.
The study will be the first to systematically assess the educational, cognitive, social, psychological and vocational functioning of college students with ADHD, relative to a sample of peers without ADHD. It will also be the first of its kind to shed much needed light on how ADHD and its associated impairments unfold across the college years.
“Our preliminary research has shown that college students with ADHD are at greater risk for academic, psychological, and social problems, however this study will be the first of its kind to follow students from their first semester to their last. This long term assessment will help us to determine if and when problems unfold,” said Weyandt. “The results from this unique tri-state and multi-university partnership will shed light on possible interventions that ultimately will increase the success of these students in pursuit of their goals.”
One area in which college students with ADHD have problems is self-regulation. Having the support of parents and school personnel while in high school helps students get through and into college, but two things happen when they set foot on a college campus: their support system, which serves as a form of treatment, gets withdrawn, while the demands for self-regulation skyrocket. Now they’re managing their college lives on their own – assignments, money, personal life, friends, laundry, car and, not the least, resistance to temptations on campus.
Starting this summer, groups of 210 first-year college students will be recruited in two consecutive years for the study across the primary sites in North Carolina (UNC Greensboro, primary site, Guilford College and High Point University), Rhode Island (University of Rhode Island, primary site, Brown University and Rhode Island College) and Pennsylvania (Lehigh University, primary site, Muhlenberg College, Cedar Crest College and Moravian College). Each primary site will be responsible for recruiting a total of 70 first-year students – 35 students with ADHD, 35 without – in each cohort.
“One of the unique and important features of our project is that we will be getting real time information about students’ academic and social activities through electronic means as opposed to solely relying on surveys and questionnaires completed after the fact,” said DuPaul. “This will give us specific information about how individuals with ADHD respond to the daily challenges of college life and how they differ in this respect from their non-ADHD peers.”
The study’s results will raise understanding of the natural course of ADHD among college students and identify potential targets for assessment and intervention. The data can help to increase the probability that students with ADHD will succeed and graduate from college, thereby impacting their long-term chances for financial stability and positive mental health.
“Despite these compelling data, we really don’t know a lot about college students with ADHD,” said Anastopoulos, who is the co-lead principal investigator on this study. “We’re assuming that those students who get into college have a lot more coping mechanisms and adaptability to help them. Once they’re in college, however, we don’t know what happens to them over time. This study will help document it.”
ADHD is described as a chronic disruptive behavior disorder that is associated with long-term impairment in educational attainment, occupational status and social relationships, as well as increased risk for psychopathology and legal difficulties. The results of a recently conducted national survey involving 250,000 first-year college students found that 5 percent of these incoming students reported having ADHD. Other research has produced data about ADHD and young adults:
• Individuals identified as having ADHD in childhood are significantly less likely to graduate from high school and significantly fewer (20-21 percent) go on to post-secondary education relative to their non-ADHD peers (68-78 percent).
• Children and adolescents with ADHD who do attend college are at increased risk for obtaining significantly lower grade point averages, withdrawing from a significantly greater percentage of courses, and not completing their degree programs relative to control individuals without ADHD.
• Only 9.1 percent of individuals who continued to display ADHD in young adulthood actually graduated from college compared to 60.6 percent of the normal control group.
• The lower rate of college degree attainment among young adults with ADHD has critical implications for the long-term financial and mental health status of this population and society at large.
• Although the exact prevalence of diagnosed ADHD in the college population is unknown, estimates based on large sample studies indicate that approximately 2 to 8 percent of college students report clinically significant symptoms of ADHD.
Arthur D. Anastopoulos, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he is director of the ADHD Clinic. His research interests include the impact of ADHD on children and their families; genetics of ADHD ; diagnostic assessment of ADHD and its comorbid features; impact of adult ADHD on parenting, family and marital functioning; risk and protective factors affecting the developmental course of ADHD; and gender and ethnic differences in ADHD. Contact: 336-346-3192, ext. 303, Steve Gilliam, UNCG University Relations Office, 336- 334-4314.
George J. DuPaul, Ph.D. is a Professor of School Psychology and Chair of the Department of Education and Human Services at Lehigh University. He is the author of six books and over 175 journal articles and book chapters about ADHD and related disorders. In addition to the assessment and treatment of college students with ADHD, he conducts research on early intervention, school-based intervention, and assessment of ADHD in children and adolescents. Contact: 610-758-3252.
Lisa L. Weyandt, Ph.D., is a professor of school psychology at the University of Rhode Island. Her research interests include the study of pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children and young adults, misuse of prescription stimulant medication among college students, the study of executive functions in clinical and nonclinical populations, and clinical neuroscience. Dr. Weyandt is the author of three books as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters concerning ADHD. Contact: 401-874-2194