News Release

For years, Lynn Royster watched as her son, who suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), labored unsuccessfully to earn a college degree. Royster, a visiting professor in the School for New Learning (SNL) at DePaul University, studied her son’s plight and worked to develop a program that would help others who, like her son, suffer from chronic illnesses but want to complete college. Her efforts resulted in the new Chronic Illness Initiative at SNL, which gives chronically ill students a chance to pursue higher education goals.

“I watched as my son, who is now 30, struggled to go to college, only to be thwarted over and over again by severe relapses, heavy bureaucratic requirements and uncomprehending faculty,” said Royster, who is the advisor for the initiative. Royster holds a law degree from George Washington University and a doctorate degree in conflict resolution and rhetoric from the Union Institute.

“After I began to teach at SNL, I saw a way that the program—which already had features that could make learning accessible to students with chronic illnesses—could be modified to eliminate some of the additional roadblocks chronically ill students face.”

According to a 1999 study conducted by DePaul psychology professor Leonard Jason, approximately 800,000 people nationwide have CFS. In addition to those affected by CFS, the new initiative serves those afflicted with other illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, Gulf War Syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis—all of which are characterized by chronic relapses and fatigue.

Through the initiative, these students will find flexible time requirements that allow them to earn degrees at their own pace. They can make up courses without being restricted by the normal two months that other students have to complete a class after dropping out. They can take as much time as necessary to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree without penalty.

Other features of the initiative include competence-based degree requirements that recognize learning in different settings; the option of earning a degree completely online; special advisors to help students plan and execute studies; and informed faculty who are trained to understand and respond effectively to the needs of students who may appear slow but are, in actuality, ill.

“No one in the country offers a program like this,” Royster, points out. “Typically, disability offices are trained to deal with more traditional disability needs, such as wheelchair access, readers for the blind, and hearing aids. The disabilities we address are not totally solved with technological aids. Students who will benefit from the initiative may be perceived as unmotivated when, in reality, they are wrestling with real health problems that seriously impact their ability to complete a conventional program.”

Established in 1972, SNL is one of the first programs in the nation created to serve the specific needs of adult learners. It has earned a national reputation as a leader in designing programs for adult students and serves as a global model for adult education curriculums. SNL offers on-site programs at several U.S. corporations. Programs in South Africa and Hong Kong are also patterned after SNL. The Chronic Illness Initiative further illustrates SNL’s commitment to providing innovative programs to make higher education more accessible for adults.

“SNL has always taken the lead in expanding educational options,” said Susanne Dumbleton, dean of SNL. “The initiative will make college degrees a viable option for a population that has the intelligence and capabilities to earn degrees but who have special needs that must be considered in helping them to achieve educational success.”

For additional information about the Chronic Illness Initiative, contact Royster at 312/362-5079 or by e-mail at lroyster@depaul.edu. ###

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