College students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to receive lower grades and are at an elevated risk of dropping out, according to a new study from researchers at Lehigh University.

There are varying stats on the prevalence of ADHD among the U.S. college population. The study’s authors cite a 2017 UCLA study which found about 6 per cent of the student population has ADHD. A 2012 study found between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of U.S. college students live with ADHD. 

Researchers say their paper is among the first to focus on the challenges students with ADHD face in college while offering suggestions on how to better support and retain this demographic.

The paper assesses multiple academic outcomes of more than 400 college students in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, half of whom identified as having ADHD.

Students with ADHD received, on average, scores that were half a grade level below their peers, a disparity found across all four years. 

“It was somewhat surprising to see the magnitude of the academic deficits experienced by college students with ADHD because these were students who had the skills to successfully graduate from high school and matriculate in a four-year college or university,”  George DuPaul, professor of school psychology and associate dean for research in Lehigh University’s College of Education, and lead author in the study, said in a statement.

“We expected smaller declines in their educational performance in college.”

Medication was not found to “substantially improve academic outcomes,” but receiving academic accommodations and support services did.

“Our findings highlight the importance of providing academic support services for students with ADHD prior to college matriculation, the vital need to improve executive functioning skills in these students, and necessity to screen for and treat depressive symptoms experienced by college students with ADHD,” DuPaul said.

ADHD is considered a disability in the United States, both under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, but only in severe instances. Individuals with ‘mild’ ADHD, i.e., ADHD that does not meet the definition of interfering with daily activities, may not be eligible for federal or state benefits, The Recovery Village says.