College options and financial aid increase job prospects for intellectually disabled students

College programs for students with intellectual disabilities have increased in number from 25 in 2004 to 270 this fall, bolstered by increased public and private financial support, as well as data showing that attending college significantly increases employment rates among intellectually disabled adults, Associated Press reports.

The programs range in type, with relatively few awarding degrees; however, some include residential options, and most include support from student mentors and faculty. Students with intellectual disabilities often audit classes, completing modified and ungraded assignments, although some programs have pathways for these students to earn certificates, associate’s degrees, and even bachelor’s degrees; Temple University’s 13-year-old program has expanded its offerings to include four-year degrees.

Increased financial support drives growth, but demand still exceeds supply

The expansion of these programs is attributable in part to increased federal and state funding, as well as private support. Many students leverage work-study funds and Medicaid waivers to finance their education. The Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed in 2008, also expanded Pell grant access to students with intellectual disabilities, which helps certified Comprehensive Transition Programs like Temple’s.

Meanwhile, the DREAM Partnership has funded start-up support, technical support, and scholarships to schools using money from foundations, private donations, and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Associated Press reports.

Still, even given the more than ten-fold increase in growth in the number of programs for students with intellectual disabilities, the programs are competitive, with many more applicants than spots available. An administrator at Temple attributes the demand to the relatively few options available for intellectually disabled adults after high school, noting that Temple accepts only 20 percent of students interviewed.

College improves job prospects

Not only does student mentorship and coaching, university advisor support, internships, and campus socialization benefit these students’ personal growth, but it also significantly improves their job prospects. Associated Press reports that less than 25 percent of all adults with cognitive disabilities are employed, while 61 percent who attended college report being employed one year later.

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