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Social Entrepreneur – May 2017

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Beacon College: A Unique School, for Unique Needs

Few better understand and are more passionate to help those dealing with disabilities than the parents of a disabled individual. They are not only caregivers and advocates; they
see the unique qualities their child possesses, which are often masked by the problems the child is struggling to overcome.

That is one of the unique features of Beacon College, founded in 1989. It was conceived by a group of parents who knew that, given the right environment, support and tools, all students can succeed. From that simple conviction has grown an institution that is committed to student success, offering academic and personal support services that help each student achieve his/her goals.

Beacon College is the first institution of higher education in the country accredited to award bachelor degrees primarily to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences. It is truly a community, welcoming, accepting, and supporting each member. To those who are a part of that community, that is the “essence” of Beacon, a term the school uses to describe its purpose: “Essence is the basic set of attributes that makes something what it is,” the college’s website says. “Without essence, anything becomes generic and loses its specific identity. In French, essence is the most commonly- used term for gasoline, the stuff without which cars cannot go.” The school then invites interested parties, “To get a sense of Beacon’s essence – what makes us unique and what makes us go.”

NOT TO “MAKE DO,” BUT “TO MAKE” AND “TO DO”
The college, located in Leesburg, is designed to empower students as they put it, “Not to ‘make do,’ but ‘to make, to do, to dream and to be the most that they can be.’” Beacon College offers Bachelor of Science degrees in business management with business management and hospitality tracks, computer information systems with web/digital media and information systems tracks, and anthrozoology (only the second U.S. college or university to offer the discipline as an undergraduate major). The college also offers Associate of Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees in human services, interdisciplinary studies, computer information systems, psychology, and business management. It is regionally accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and is licensed by the Florida Department of Education.

George J. Hagerty has served as president since March 2013. Hagerty said he is often asked what makes Beacon College different?

He cites that they are the first college of its type to be accredited. But then he adds, “The core elements of the Beacon model are small class size and the professors’ familiarity with, and responsiveness to, a variety of learning styles. There is the integration for each student of a system of learning, along with specialists and life coaches, and the offering of a residential living and learning community that empowers students through the integration of extra-curricular services and activities.”

But he goes further, “These are specific and tangible expressions of what makes Beacon different. They are, however, only part of the reason that I, and I believe the vast majority of students, faculty, and staff have chosen Beacon. Without question, the undergraduate program of academic and social support that has been created over the course of 25 years, purposefully set in motion to address the unique learning needs of our students, is a defining difference for Beacon.”

Hagerty then pointed to the intangible elements of the Beacon community that make it unique and almost impossible to understand unless you visit the campus. “However, essential in shaping a learning community, these features are often obscured at first glance: the way we welcome the newcomers, the manner by which we embrace the diversity among students across all the dimensions of individuality, and the strength of the bond – a truly extraordinary unifying force – between students, faculty and staff.”

Still, the proof is in the student body. In 2015, Rosalyn Johnson, class of 2009, became the college’s first graduate to earn a Ph.D. — in counseling psychology.

And that spirit of excellence and community continues with current students.

“Beacon has shined a light on me to find success,” says Alexandra Lee, a freshman from Long Island, New York. “Coming to Beacon College has made me more positive that I could find success in my life going forward from college. Beacon has helped me feel better about my future and have a better outlook on the world and my life.”

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