College Programs: Closer Than You Think
At a time when other parents of high school students are busy looking into college options for their students, some parents may worry what that means for their children. Unfortunately, in some instances, college advisors are not well-versed in the programs available for young adults with special needs, leaving many parents to fear college may be impossible. However, that is not necessarily the case. Today, there are a wealth of online resources that can open up a whole new world to your child.
Not only are there more programs than ever before available to students with disabilities, there is also funding and scholarships that can help getting a college education attainable.
Of the nearly 22 million students enrolled in colleges and universities in the US, approximately 11 percent report some form of disability.
Today, students with intellectual disabilities (ID) have many opportunities and programs where they can attend and live at college. Here is one of the many examples available:
At the University of Central Florida – UCF – 13
Students with intellectual disabilities participated in the university-wide commencement this past spring. They are the first group of students to complete a new program for students with IQs of about 75 that is part of the UCF Inclusive Education Services. Although the students do not seek a bachelor’s degree, their five-semester program provided them with a credential specially intended for them. The courses they take prepare them for adulthood and careers. They can still attend regular UCF courses although without receiving grades or college credits.
Twenty-four students have enrolled to date, with many residing on campus and participating in activities and clubs with other students. The cost for the five semesters, which includes housing and meals, runs about $40,000 for in-state students. Some scholarships are available.
1. While your student is still in high school, plan to take some college campus trips. This way, they can get acquainted with what college looks like and feels like.
2. Meet the guidance counselors and college advisers to talk about any special accommodations your student might require.
3. Have a discussion with your child to see what they desire out of their college experience. What are their interests? What classes do they want to take? Involve your child in the whole process because college will be THEIR experience, not yours.
4. Visit Thinkcollege.net to learn more about specific programs for students with intellectual disabilities.
Ranking Colleges and Programs for Students with Special Needs
Best Value Schools is one of the websites that provides information on programs geared towards students with special needs. For students with learning disabilities, the law requires colleges and universities to offer certain services, but some schools only guarantee the minimum academic assistance and accommodations. Then there are the schools that go above and beyond what is required, to provide exceptional programs for young adults facing a wide range of learning disorders, physical disabilities, or chronic medical conditions.
In the link at the bottom of this article, we take you to Best Value School’s top 20 rankings of the best colleges for learning disabilities based on
their research. It may seem daunting for a parent beginning this journey to know where to look to rank the many programs available. Having websites such as this one, that looked at many factors, is beneficial in the search.
Factors taken into consideration in the rankings included:
- Percentage of students at the schools with disabilities
- Overall undergraduate graduation rate
- Student-to-faculty ratio
- Types and ranges of services provided
- Unique resources and opportunities
If you are wondering what school took the #1 spot in their list, it is Beacon College in Leesburg, Fl. It is the first accredited school in the country to cater exclusively to undergraduate students with learning disabilities. Close behind is Landmark College, another school that is wholly dedicated to students who learn differently.
Higher Education – Finding the Right Program
Accredited Schools Online provides another excellent resource for parents looking to transition their children from high school to college. Their online guide helps parents understand the following:
- The rights of students with disabilities
- How to know if your child’s condition qualifies as a disability – broken down into multiple categories
- What to know about informing the school of the disability – it is not required, but must be disclosed if special adjustments or services are desired or necessary
- Type of documentation required
- Tips for choosing the right school
- Distance learning
- Financial aid
- Preparing for college
- Listing of over 20 helpful resources
One of the positive attributes of the link below is that it lists universities with the type of disabilities they support. There are options for students with mobility impairments, learning disabilities, psychological disabilities, intellectual disabilities, deaf or hard of hearing, visual disabilities, and developmental disabilities. The list provided is only a partial selection of the many programs available throughout the country. The website also links directly to Think College for a more complete listing.
What Is Think College?
At the University of Massachusetts, Boston, the Institute for Community Inclusion offers Think College, a national organization that is dedicated to “developing, expanding, and improving inclusive higher education’s options for people with intellectual disability.” Think College works with both the students and their families, as well as directly with colleges and universities to develop programs.
College provides an opportunity to grow up, to work, to network, and to find new friends. For students with ID, the college experience differs from those individuals seeking a degree but is as important since it provides education, emotional, and social experience, as well as a pathway to increase future job opportunities. This allows students to pursue their interests and passions like anyone else.
Today, more than 200 campuses offer programs designed for students with intellectual disabilities. Think College National
Coordinating Center works to ensure that families are aware of the opportunities available, maintaining a help desk to answer all your questions. They help students prepare for college during their final two or three years in high school through college-based transition services.
The Think College website offers family resources, including:
- How to Prepare
- How to Apply
- Financial Aid Information
- How to Find the Right College
- And much more
Currently, there are over 260 programs in the US that offer some type of college experience for students with ID. Programs can be found at both 2-year community colleges as well as 4-year universities and colleges. Some offer residential services – those may be either on or off the campus. There are also dual enrollment programs for students between the ages of 18 and 21 who are still in high school.
Depending on the program, residential living may be with other students in the program or in fully inclusive buildings with the extended college community. Dormitories, on-campus apartments, and off campus housing are items to consider when researching programs. In the College Search listings, you will find a general idea of how much time students spend within the program.
Every student is unique, as is his or her requirements and goals. To help evaluate the programs, Think College has developed eight standards:
- Alignment with college systems and practices
- Campus membership
- Career development
- Coordination and collaboration
- Inclusive academic access
- Program evaluation
General Admission Requirements
- Documentation of intellectual disability.
- Students desire to work after program
- Safety skills basic level
- Ability to use a cell phone, spend time alone, and self advocate.
- A standard high school diploma is NOT part of the requirements. Each school will provide you with their specific requirements
College Program Differences
Depending on the college, the student may take only specialized courses or participate in classes from the general course catalog. Some programs allow students to participate as an adult-only status. Others allow for regular college credit. At some schools, students who wish to take general courses may have only a select group of classes available to them. These are things to consider when looking at individual colleges.
If your student has specific interests, such as photography, computers, or art, you may want to focus on colleges that offer programs that meet those desires.
Auditing classes will not provide college credits but will most likely count toward the credential program. Courses taken for college credits require the same standards as for all students in the class. However, the student with ID may ask for any necessary assistive technology for paper writing or extended time for test-taking.
Students with intellectual disability also have different admission processes than typically matriculating students. They will not need to provide SAT or ACT scores or write college essays. In place of a standard high school diploma, they may present a certificate of attendance, an IEP diploma, or an alternative diploma for admission acceptance. Each school will provide you with their specific requirements.
Documentation is necessary regarding the student’s needs and intellectual disability. Colleges will want to know the student’s desire to attend college and work goals for after the program. Other requirements typically include the student’s ability to use a cell phone, spend time alone, and other basic skills.
Admission requirements and deadlines for these programs vary widely – be sure to note these deadlines when reviewing the programs
Other Benefits of Think College Website
You can access an array of videos and special reports that can help you make the right decision regarding college for your student, including:
- How-to Guide on Conducting a College Search
- Self-Advocates Guide to Selecting a College
- Paying for College
- Foundation Skills Tool for College and Career Learning Tool – helps your child prepare for college
- Think College Learn module – eight distinct sections to help you step by step through the process
- Think College Stories – perspectives shared by other students
Where Are the Colleges Located?
At the time of this writing, only one state (West Virginia) does not have any programs listed on the Think College database. The colleges themselves submit the information on their programs for listing. Please note that does not serve as an endorsement by Think College if a program is listed. All programs are affiliated with accredited universities or colleges and serve students with intellectual disabilities.
You will be able to access the map and click on the state you wish to search. That will pull up a listing of the colleges and their information.
How to Vet the College Program
The final thing we want to discuss is what to look for as you begin this journey towards your child’s higher education. Inclusion Evolution provides an excellent article on this subject, which can be found in our link section below. Both enrichment of the student as well as preparing them for what comes next are vital aspects to examine in your search.
We are providing an overview of what to look for in a program in the box below:
What to Look for In a Program
- ACADEMIC INCLUSION – what courses are inclusive?
- RESIDENTIAL INCLUSION – policies for housing
- SOCIAL INCLUSION – ability to participate in campus social activities
- JOB TRAINING AND INTERNSHIPS – preparing the student for after the program
- PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT – level of communication and participation
- METRICS – assessing the effectiveness of the program and the student’s progress
- MEMBERSHIP & BELONGING – enrollment level, alumni benefits, handbook, and policies
- PHILOSOPHY OF INCLUSION – program’s definition of inclusion
- QUALIFICATIONS – of the program director and faculty
- RECOMMENDATIONS – list of other families to contact who have participated in the program
An important skill students should have before going to college
We reached out to Brooks Imel, PhD., a College Guidance Counseling and Academic Advisor from Compass to College to get his expert advice on the subject. What skills do you think students should have before going to college?
Aside from the basic academic skills that students need in college (reading, writing, and study skills), it’s really important that students learn self-advocacy. This is especially true for students with LD. Students with LD should have a solid understanding of their own learning needs, and they need to be able to communicate those needs with their professors and support staff. At many schools, students with LD and other disabilities are entitled to accommodations, but that doesn’t mean that those accommodations occur automatically. Students need to make sure that their disabilities are properly documented and on file with their college, THEN, they need to approach their professors to have accommodations applied in each class. This is where advocacy comes in–you need to reach out to professors and communicate your needs effectively, so that they can help you!
How should they advise others regarding their needs?
Be clear and concise…don’t be shy. You’re entitled to services: never let anyone make you feel like you are asking for a “favor.” This gets back to the skill of self-advocacy–be your own advocate.
Anything else you would like to tell or share with our audience?
A very important part of this process is making sure that you are in the right learning environment for your own particular needs, goals, and interests. Before selecting a school, make sure that you will be able to get what you need there. Think about the accommodations you’ve had up to this point- throughout your school career. There are colleges that have varying degrees of support services, from the bare minimum required by law, up through highly organized programs like the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center at the University of Arizona, or the Bridges program at Adelphi University.
Remember, learning is a lifelong process – whether your child goes on to college or not, finding educational opportunities throughout life can continue to help their mind grow.
- Planning for Your Special Child’s Future: It’s Never “Too Early” to Start!
- What Do I Do with My Child Once They Graduate High School?
- What to Do After High School?
- Educational Options After High School for Students with Special Needs
- College Bound: A Journey to Independence
- Helping Your Child Be An Independent College Student
- Parents of teenagers with special needs: Prep for college NOW…..3 tips
- Independence and Self-Advocacy
- Maneuvering Your Meal Plan While In College
- Raising a Successful College Graduate
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This post originally appeared on our September/October 2019 Magazine