Project STEPP: A Promising Practice in Providing Comprehensive Support Throughout the University Experience

Date Updated

Project STEPP at East Carolina University provides students with learning disabilities, who aspire to achieve a college education, with access and comprehensive support throughout their university experience. By partnering with these students, their families, and a variety of educational communities, Project STEPP fosters a network of opportunities and resources to empower and support students from admission to graduation from East Carolina University.

Interested students apply to the program during their junior year of high school. Students admitted to the program work with the Project STEPP Transition Specialist during their senior year as they prepare for the college setting. The program sets no limits on a participant’s choice of major and charges no fees for services provided. By building partnerships with families and educational professionals, the program weaves together resources and supports for students across campus, filling in gaps when needed, rather than duplicating supports and services provided by other organizations.

Direct supports provided by the program include:

  • Transition Support: Project STEPP provides a full year of transition support prior to matriculation.
  • Cooperative Advising: All participating students have two assigned advisors—a Project STEPP advisor and an advisor in their major—who collaborate to provide guidance to students as they navigate their academic course of study.
  • Tutoring Services: While students take advantage of the university tutoring resources available to all students for their primary tutoring needs, Project STEPP undergraduate peer tutors also offer tutoring in high-need areas.
  • Parallel Course Series: Students take up to 5 courses, placed at key transition points in the college experience, through the Project STEPP program. These courses equip participants with skills and strategies they can use to be successful in other coursework.
  • Mentoring: Each first-year student is assigned a graduate student mentor who helps them develop the academic routines necessary for success in the university setting. While only required for first-year students, these mentor connections are available to all students in the program throughout their undergraduate experience.
  • Structure: The program imposes an external structure that is required for first- and second-year participants and available, if needed, as students become upperclassmen. The structure and study hall elements help students learn to capture their new "free time" and use it effectively as they balance academic and social priorities.

Project STEPP is a promising practice in providing comprehensive support for students with learning disabilities throughout their university experience. Although Project STEPP is a small program (approximately 10 new students enter the program each year and remain in the project until graduation), research associated with the program will help project leaders learn about, and share with others, predictors of success for students with learning disabilities in the university setting as well as how to best support these capable learners in reaching their postsecondary goals.