Think College is an organization that looks for college opportunities for people with cognitive and other developmental disabilities. it has been a long time coming but there is finally a way for more students with non traditional ways of learning to be able to attend and succeed in college.
It has been found in a national study and reported by Education Weekly that six years out of high school, a student with a disability is less likely to have attended college than his or her non-disabled counterpart. 55% of student with disabilities attend some sort of college as compared to 62% of non-disabled peers. This statistic includes all forms of disabilities, physical and learning as well as cognitive impairments.
Even among those students with milder (and this term is relative) forms of impairments like dyslexia and ADHD have limited options in terms of really good programs at better schools. Among these are the SALT program at University of Arizona, USC’s Learning Services and the many community colleges in California who are required to have a program for students with disabilities. It is a federal law (The Americans with Disabilities Act) that a student with a documented disability have access to open education and accommodations for that disability.
However, we now have new programs specific to those students with intellectual disabilities like Down’s syndrome, lowered intellectual functioning and other developmental disabilities. In the past ten years, parents groups and the students themselves have asked for and gotten new programs to allow them educational and social success. Also, changes in federal law have increased expectations of such students in elementary and secondary school.
Pathway at the UCLA extension, Vanderbilt’s Next Steps program and George Mason of Mason LIFE (Learning Into Future Environments) have welcomed students with disabilities into their programs, and Vanderbilt graduated its first class last month. These programs are usually two years and teach social skills, life skills and allows students to attend university-level courses or work on vocational certificates.
Previously, the options open to these students were to stay in high school until they were 21, live with family members or in group homes, or work at a center in jobs that paid less than minimum wage, usually alongside other people with disabilities. The college programs listed above along with a few others in South Carolina, California and a couple of other states allow students to live independently, hold jobs, continue their education or hold an internship.
Think College is coordinating and studying 27 programs in 23 states that were awarded five-year grants by the federal Education Department. They will recommend ways programs can be accredited and what kinds of certificates graduates should be awarded to students in these programs
Any program that allows educational and social access to those who want it is doing it right. It will be interesting to see what certificates will be awarded and how many more people will become productive members of society.
Photo credit: kmoliver