By Michelle Diament ~ disabilityscoop.com
As a growing number of colleges offer programs for students with intellectual disabilities, a new report provides the most comprehensive look yet at who’s attending and their outcomes.
The federally-mandated report from the Think College National Coordinating Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston offers a snapshot of what’s happening at post-secondary programs across the country using data solicited from 50 programs that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education.
During the 2013-2014 academic year, the vast majority of students in the college programs were between the ages of 18 and 25 and nearly all were diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, autism or both, the report found. A quarter were dually enrolled while still receiving special education services from their local school district.
Of the 883 students attending federally-funded post-secondary programs that year, 39 percent had a paid job. However, the report noted that the longer students were enrolled, the more likely they were to be employed. Among those in their fourth year, more than three-quarters were working a paid job, an internship or participating in other career development activities.
By comparison, only 30 percent of students engaged in post-secondary programs during the 2010-2011 academic year had jobs that paid, according to Meg Grigal, co-director of Think College and an author of the report.
Ultimately, about 40 percent of those who exited programs in 2014 left with a paid job. Individuals who attended the programs as adults were more likely than those dually enrolled in high school to have paid employment when they moved on from the post-secondary programs, the report found.
“The growing percentage of students leaving these programs with paid employment demonstrates the capacity of higher education to serve as a viable pathway to employment for people with intellectual disability,” Grigal told Disability Scoop.
Costs for the post-secondary programs vary widely, the report found, ranging from free to $51,000 annually and depended in part on whether they were located at two or four-year institutions and if tuition was tied to a student’s residency status.
Slightly more than half of students took courses specifically designed for and limited to the post-secondary programs, while the remainder participated in general college coursework alongside their typically-developing peers. The report authors noted that increasing access to inclusive course offerings remains a challenge.
Though the analysis relies on data from 50 post-secondary programs, the Think College database includes information on more than 200 across the country and Grigal said there is room for more.
“I think in the future the demand for and the supply of these programs will continue to grow,” she said. “We are just beginning to see how these experiences — taking inclusive classes, engaging in internships and paid employment, establishing a peer social network in a college setting — can lead to improved outcomes for people with intellectual disability.”