By Jessica Landgraf
If you think about a period in your life when you grew the most as an individual, discovered your independence, and started to become who you are today, it is likely to have happened during your young adult years. For many, this time occurs during, and is facilitated by, time away at college. These years are a time for figuring out how to do things on your own, making mistakes, and learning from them. But the opportunity to be thrust into adulthood in an intermediary environment such as higher education hasn’t always been an option for all people. A recent article published in The Atlantic, “The Path to Higher Education With an Intellectual Disability,” spotlighted this topic.
College programs that cater to students with developmental and intellectual disabilities, such as Downs Syndrome or Autism, are few and far between. According to the Atlantic article, only 6% of certification-granting institutions in the U.S. can be included on that list. This means that even if there is a desire to attend a program, demand tends to outweigh supply. For example, although Clemson University received 74 applications for their program, ClemsonLIFE, only 12 could be accepted. It is hardly surprising that programs like these are in high demand. ClemsonLIFE offers a comprehensive experience through programing in six areas: Courses, Independent Living, Employment, Counseling, Socialization/Leisure, and Health and Wellness.
Think College is the go-to resource when trying to learn about programs like ClemsonLIFE. They have information and links to the 263 programs for students with disabilities currently available in the U.S. Michigan has four such programs: Noorthoek Academy at Grand Rapids Community College, Ready for Life at both Hope College and Calvin College, and the Brighton PSE Program at the University of Michigan Dearborn (a part of the Jo Brighton Skills Center).
Think College is also the National Coordinating Center for demonstration programs created through the U.S. Department of Education competitive grant program, Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID). TPSID grants were created through the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), and there have been two cohorts of programs awarded funds. The first cohort included 27 programs and the second cohort included 25 programs. The reauthorization also made financial aid available broadly to students with disabilities for the first time through the removal of the requirement that these students possess a regular high school diploma or GED. However, only students attending approved comprehensive transition and postsecondary (CTP) programs are eligible.
After looking into these programs and reading the feel-good stories of the students and families who have benefited from them, I am convinced that this is an important area for attention in higher education. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 was reauthorized for six years, meaning that it was up for reauthorization in 2014, but has not made any progress thus far due to a variety of factors, although smaller targeted bills have been passed. As the HEOA is likely to be discussed for reauthorization this year, it will be interesting to watch whether there is any significant change to these programs, or if it will be brought up for reauthorization at all.
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