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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Thinking Ahead to College

When Kayla was born, only 13 short years ago, I had no thoughts about college for her. I was still grappling with the diagnosis itself - forget thinking that far ahead to the future! Well that future is getting closer every year.

I'm not sure when post-secondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities became a reality, but I don't think there were many colleges or universities offering such a program only 13 years ago.

But now? The past several years have seen an explosion in these type of programs (the most recent statistic I remember reading put the number at over 200 programs). Post-secondary opportunities are now a realistic option for students with intellectual disabilities to continue their learning after high school.

Here is a great article on just one such program at the Virginia Commonwealth University. Even though there are now over 200 programs, as Seb Prohn, Ph.D and program coordinator at VCU pointed out, "Our best estimate is, despite the national momentum, that around 4 percent of four-year universities offer a pathway to college and a career for individuals with ID. Traditionally this group, like many others, has been excluded from higher education. The effects of exclusion are apparent in unemployment numbers and many aspects of inclusive community living." VCU must be doing something right as about 88% of it's program participants have obtained paid employment within 6 months; nationally the employment rate for people with disabilities is 32%.

Think College is an excellent resource for all things relating to college options for students with intellectual disabilities. Their website is a wealth of information from searching each state for programs, to comparing programs, to providing training and many other resources.

There are 5 options right here in South Carolina; and when we found out Joe would be stationed here after his deployment I was excited about the prospect of Kayla attending the REACH Program at the College of Charleston (CofC); and Kayla was only in 1st grade when we moved here!

After attending the NDSC Convention in Orlando this summer I think CofC might have some competition! I visited the booth for the University of North Carolina Greensboro and talked for several minutes with a currently enrolled student and her life and college experience, and then for several more minutes with a director of their program Beyond Academics. I came away very, very impressed with their program and put it on my list as an option for Kayla.

UNCG is also one of only 34 programs nation wide approved to participate in federal student aid programs. For a program to be eligible to accept federal student aid for students with ID the program has to be designated a Comprehensive Training Program by the US Dept of Ed.

Since Kayla also won a scholarship a few years ago, and all these opportunities opening up for students with ID to attend college, it's looking more and more like a reality for Kayla's future.

Whether I'm going to be able to cut the string and leave her on her own in a college environment or not will be seen when we get to that bridge! Ha! Honestly the thought of that makes me very nervous (ok terrifies me actually!) especially in another state...I have a several more years to get used to it...but I also know how quickly those years will pass!


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