Higher Education Should be for Everyone
As more and more state governments work to build the necessary infrastructure to help make post-secondary education available to people with disabilities, employment professionals should be abreast with all the emerging opportunities available to the people they support.
One such resource is Think College (ThinkCollege.org), a resource with a strong, convenient online presence that helps employment professionals, colleges, organizations, people with disabilities and the people they support find information about post-secondary options.
Think College is the national coordinating center for 27 Transition and Postsecondary Education Program (TPSID) grantees across 23 states, working with 44 institutes of higher education among those grantees. One of Think College’s goals is to expand the choice of the post-secondary education for students with intellectual challenges across the country.
“The current data we have shows the national rate of employment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) is 18%. But with college that rate doubles, to around 36%. That’s pretty powerful,” observes Debra Hart, the Director of Education and Transition at the Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston.
“In Massachusetts we have a dual enrollment line item for students with intellectual challenges from an 18-21 year-old group who are still in high school,” Hart says. “We want them to have a more robust transition experience [from high school] so they can go to college like their peers without disabilities.” The idea is to help students with IDD find a course of a study that will relate to a career, including paid internships with the ultimate goal of competitive integrated employment at the end.
But college isn’t just about training someone in a skill that will result in a job. “College helps with maturation, self-esteem, in learning adult language with your peers,” Hart notes. “All of this is critical to a person’s transition into adulthood. But until the Higher Education Opportunities Act this wasn’t possible for people with IDD.”
Hart also observes that having students with intellectual disabilities also makes colleges truly diverse. “Having IDD students participating in classes and other activities makes a college’s diversity statement come alive,” Hart says.
As state agencies work towards making college a very real opportunity for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, employment professionals should be well versed on the post-secondary route to find meaningful work for the people they support. The DirectCourse/College of Employment Services Strategies for Job Development Courses will help you to understand this process.