Federal Government Continues its Drive to Include Students with Intellectual Disabilities in Higher Education


In 2008, Congress passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA). Of particular note in HEOA was language that, for the first time, created supports for the inclusion of students with an intellectual disability in institutes of higher education. In such legislation the broad term, “institutes of higher education” (IHE) refers to two and four year colleges, as well as a variety of other trade schools that students attend after high school. There were two main features of the support for students with an intellectual disability that grew out of the legislation. One feature was for the United States Department of Education to recognize a new type of initiative within IHEs, a Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Program (CTP) for Students with Intellectual Disabilities. The second feature authorized funding for colleges to create model programs to develop inclusive higher education opportunities for students with an intellectual disability. These were called Transition Postsecondary Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disability (TPSIDs).

In 2010, institutes of higher education who had existing programs, or who committed to developing new programs were able to apply to the United States Department of Education to have their Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Program (CTP) recognized as meeting the legislative criteria. A significant benefit to the students who apply, and their families, is the ability for the institute of higher education to grant certain and specific kinds of federal financial aid to students in a CTP, even though they may not be taking any credit-bearing classes and/or they may not be in a program leading to a degree. Students in a CTP can be eligible for Federal Pell Grants, Federal supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and Federal Work Study funds. Students in a CTP are still not ligible for Federal Student Loans.

The HEOA established four broad criteria for a CTP. A Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Program has to be: offered by an IHE; designed to support students with an intellectual disability seeking to continue their education and instruction in order to prepare for gainful employment; has an advising and curriculum structure; and allows students with an intellectual disability to participate with their non-disabled peers more than one-half the time. The legislation defines intellectual disability in a broad manner, focusing on some significant limitation in cognitive functioning and current or former eligibility for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It is important to note that the student does not have to have received services, but only needs to  document that they are or were eligible to receive services under IDEA. There are currently 36 CTP programs in the country located across sixteen states. The list of approved CTPs can be found at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/eligibility/intellectual-disabilities .

The HEOA also authorized $10.6 million for the creation of Transition Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSIDs). At the same time, congress funded a national coordinating center for TPSIDs, which is housed at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Their  ThinkCollege.net website contains information for both families and professionals about CTPs, TPSIDs and the general movement to make higher education a more inclusive environment.

The initial funding for TPSIDs was for five-year grants that will conclude in September of 2016. As of the end of the fourth year of the grants, TPSID projects were implemented at 50 different college campuses across 23 states. While there are similarities in the criteria for CTPs and for TPSIDs, they are not necessarily the same. As of July 2014, 23 of the 36 CTPs were also TPSIDs. Although some other TPSIDs are in an application process. Thus TPSIDs cover a wider range of programmatic structures than CTPs. The important common aspect is that both CTPs and TPSIDs create opportunities for forwarding inclusionary opportunities for students with an intellectual disability at colleges and universities. While there are some examples of such opportunities going back some 30 years and more, they  were few and far between. The HEOA has created the legislation and the funding to encourage the great increase in inclusionary activities at IHEs currently being seen. Even so, the growth is still slow. Out of the over 7,600 IHEs, only 36 colleges and universities in 16 states have a U.S. Department of Education-approved Comprehensive  Transition and Post-secondary (CTP) program. Many of the colleges that did participate in the CTP development were community colleges that typically do not have residential options or were four-year colleges that only developed day programs for students with intellectual disabilities. Students with intellectual disabilities had limited options for living among their neurotypical peers in a college setting.

The research regarding students with disabilities attending post-secondary transition and vocational programs is beginning to demonstrate significant benefits. Wehman et al (2013) conducted the first random clinical trial of vocational training with students on the autism spectrum including those with ID. At the end of the study, 87% of the students in the training program were employed as compared to only 6% for the control group, or the “business as usual” group (i.e. working with the local high school and office of vocational rehabilitative services). Research has indicated the need for young adults with an intellectual disability to develop the social and independent living skills that enhance their vocational skills. The college-based residential environment provides a forum for students to  experiment with social interactions and skills in a manner in which they cannot while still living in their family  home. Lounds Taylor, Smith, and Malik (2014) found that greater engagement in vocational training led to better  outcomes in terms of improved activities of daily living, and decreases in autistic symptoms and maladaptive behaviors. The as-yet-unpublished research from Laura Klinger (see Diament, 2015) has indicated the significant importance of self-care skills in communitybased employment success. In fact, her preliminary findings indicate that it is not intellectual or academic ability that is linked to success. Rather, it is mastery of activities of daily living such as hygiene, the ability to get oneself to appointments, etc., that better predict successful employment in the  community. Moore and Schelling (2015), in their comparison of two postsecondary inclusion programs, noted the importance of specific instruction for students in making the transition to independent living:

[Postsecondary Education] programs for individuals with IDs have emerged to explicitly facilitate the migration form one microsystem (or one set of microsystems) to another (e.g. from high school to workplace and/or from  living with caregivers to living independently) through the use of hands-on experience, training, and both direct and indirect instruction. (p. 134).

Nine out of 10 students with ID who graduated from a post-secondary transition program were employed within two years from the completion of Moore and Schelling’s (2015) study, whereas only 51% of students with ID were  employed in the sample attained from the National Longitudinal 2 study.

In response to the growing research on the benefits of postsecondary programs for students with an intellectual  disability, the U.S. Department of Education announced a Request for Proposal (RFP) in June 2015 to fund a new round of grants for TPSIDs. These funds could be used to begin new initiative or to build, extend or enhance existing initiatives for the inclusion of students with an intellectual disability in an IHE. In addition to the criteria for TPSIDs from the 2010 round of grants the U.S. Department of Education has identified three new priorities for IHEs  applying for the new grants.

The U.S. Department of Education has made it clear that they are looking for inclusionary programs at IHEs that  also have working agreements with state or local agencies serving students with a disability. The specific example  offered is for agreements with state departments of vocational rehabilitation. In addition, they are looking for proposals to integrate students with an intellectual disability into the student housing provided for all students at the IHE. The third identified priority is to involve undergraduate or graduate students studying for degrees such as  education, vocational rehabilitation, occupational therapy and assistive technology as part of the inclusionary  initiative.

The New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program is proud to announce its successful  submission of the TPSID grant application to the U.S Department of Education. Grant recipients will be notified by the end of the year and a list of recipients should be published in the Federal register by year’s end.•

Dr. Ernst VanBergeijk and Dr. Paul Cavanagh are the Associate Dean and Assistant Dean of New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program (respectively), which is a U.S. Department of Education-approved Comprehensive Transition and Post-secondary (CTP) program. The duo also administers the Introduction to  Independence (I to I) Program which is a 7 week summer bridge program for students ages 16 and up. www.nyit.edu/vip

Diament, M. (2015). As more with autism near adulthood, clues to success emerge. Disability Scoop, May 29, 2015. Retrieved July 27, 2015 from http://disabilityscoop.com/2015/05/14/as-autism-adulthood-clues/20299/.
Grigal, M., Hart, D. (2009). Think College!: Postsecondary Education Options for Students with Intellectual Disabilities. Baltimore, MD, Paul H. Brooks.
Grigal, M., Hart, D., Smith, F. A., Domin, D., Sulewski, J., Weir, C. (2015). Think College National Coordinating Center: Annual report on the transition and postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities (2013–2014). Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Community Inclusion.
Higher Education Opportunities Act of 2008. (P.L. 110 -315).
Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-446).
Lounds Taylor, J., Smith, L.E., and Mailick, M.R. (2014). Engagement in Vocational Activities Promotes Behavioral Development for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders ,44:(6) pp. : 1447-1460
Moore, E.J. and Schelling, A. (2015). Postsecondary inclusion for individuals with intellectual disabilities and its effects on employment. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities. DOI: 1744629514564448
Wehman P.H., Schall, C.M., McDonough, J., Kregel, J. Brook, V., Molinelli, A., Ham W., Graham, C.W., Erin Riehle, J., Collins, H.T., Thiss, W. (2014). Competitive employment for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Early results from a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(3), 487-500. DOI 10.1007/s10803-013-1892-x

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