LAWRENCE — Researchers and educators at the University of Kansas have secured a grant that will help more young people with disabilities attend the university while supporting them and their families in preparing for adulthood and competitive careers.
The U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education has awarded KU a five-year, $1.5 million grant to establish the KU Transition to Postsecondary Education for Youth with Intellectual Disabilities program. It will not only give students who might not otherwise go to college a chance to get a KU certificate, it will work with both young people and families with the ultimate goal of preparing them for employment, independent living and increased academic and social engagement.
Mary Morningstar, associate professor of special education and principal investigator of the project housed at the Beach Center on Disability through the Lifespan Institute, said KU will initially partner with the Lawrence Public School District and East Central Kansas Education Cooperative to identify students and families who will qualify for the program. The first cohort of students will come to campus in fall 2016. Students age 18 to 21 with intellectual disabilities are either graduating or transitioning to life after high school, including community-based programs to prepare them for employment.
“At 18 most kids are graduating from high school. But young people with disabilities can still be provided services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” Morningstar said. “We wanted to apply for this grant because over the years we have heard from parents asking for such a program, and most recently, a mother of an adolescent who wanted her daughter to go to KU. We started talking about what we could do to provide some of the needed services at KU and allowing students to get a credential, and we wanted it to be fully inclusive.”
Students who enroll in KU through what will be known as the KU-TPE Program will go through the same experiences as any first-year student. They’ll take part in programs offered by the Office of First Year Experience to increase the chances of succeeding in college. They’ll also undergo a summer orientation and additional training with their families focused on academic engagement, learning processes, critical thinking, mindsets, interpersonal engagement, and adult roles and responsibilities. The needed supports will be designed in a collaborative effort, utilizing and enhancing existing student services while identifying new and necessary support mechanisms. These will include an array of KU, state agency, community resources and individual funding approaches.
“A major element of our project is not only that the students will be on campus, but that they’re preparing for career readiness. Families will be allowing their young adults to take on more adult roles,” Morningstar said. “That can be hard for any parent.”
Additionally, young adults with disabilities and their families often don’t have the same opportunities as their peers throughout youth. Program participants will work with a number of KU offices including the Academic Achievement and Access Center, University Career Center, AbleHawks, Student Housing, KU Center for Children and Families and many others to learn life skills and successfully navigate the higher education landscape.
“That’s where the support comes in. When young people take these risks, we need to be there to help so they can learn critical thinking skills and good decision-making. That self-determination that comes from these experiences is a major component of the program,” Morningstar said.
PSE program participants will attend the same classes as their peers and will earn KU Experiential Learning Certificates through additional classes with guided experiential learning and guided reflection. Students will also learn essential job skills such as networking, communication, professionalism, teamwork, collaboration and problem-solving as well as adult roles and responsibilities such as financial literacy, accessing community resources, health and wellness, transportation and others, including a collaboration with KU’s scholarship halls.
Like anyone who attends college, students with disabilities who achieve a higher education will have greater access to meaningful, competitive employment in their adult lives. Students who take part in KU’s TPE program will have access to the full college experience, including access to student groups, peer tutors and student advisers. Ultimately, the goal is to build the program into a self-sustaining model that can partner with more districts and be replicated at other Kansas universities.
“Our plan is to develop a model where that young woman can come to KU, be on campus, get the support she needs from several streams and be successful,” Morningstar said. “And any young person on campus can get involved.”