Monday, October 11, 2010

Broadening Post High School Options

A federal grant, announced earlier this month, will provide almost $10.9 million for grants to 27 two and four year colleges in 23 different states to transition students with "cognitive" or "intellectual" disabilities to higher education. The grants are aimed at creating new programs or expanding existing programs  that focus on "academics and instruction, social activities, employment experiences through work-based learning and internships, and independent living. Grantees will provide individualized supports for students and opportunities to be involved in college experiences with their peers without disabilities. Evaluating what works and does not work is a key component of each grant."

It is not clear from the grant announcement if these students will be on track to get a college degree, or if they will obtain an alternate certificate or credential. We think this program is a terrific idea, but wish it went further. Students with learning differences, attention difficulties, executive function issues, and high functioning forms of autism all can need significant support to become successful members of a college community and to graduate with a degree. These students would not qualify for this program because they have average or above average intelligence.

We know that all students with any kind of disability are entitled to the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But those protections only "level the playing field." They don't require individual supports, employment preparation, or assistance with independent living skills. We'd love to see all students who need them get this level of support. In our increasingly complex world, helping students to broaden their experiences and education, with the goal of making them more productive individuals, can only help us all.

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