A more inclusive KU experience

What is the KU experience? For most it is an exciting and challenging time of learning, friendships and fun that paves the way to the adult world and employment. Now this will also be true for students who might not otherwise go to college through the KU Transition to Postsecondary Education for Youth with Intellectual Disabilities program (KU-TPE), funded by a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The first group of students was accepted into the program for the fall 2016 semester. Those who complete the two-year program will leave with a non-degree undergraduate career development certificate after completing 24 credit hours. Ten more students will enter the program in Fall 2017. The students pay tuition like every other KU student.

“The program will be of tremendous benefit to these students because they will leave with credentials,” said Mary Morningstar, associate professor of special education, who directs the program at the Beach Center on Disability. “Our expectation is that they will complete the program with improved skills and opportunities around adult roles and responsibilities with a clear path to integrated paid employment.”

But KU will benefit as well, said Morningstar. With KU consistently rated as one of the top special education programs in the nation, KU- TPE will offer research opportunities as well as firsthand experience to undergraduate and graduate students. And the program has also connected to faculty and students in other elds, including social welfare and pre-med.

“We see this as an opportunity for students to experience disability from a much more personalized and inclusive approach than the medical or the special education model,” said Morningstar.

KU students are also involved in KU-TPE as mentors offering academic support and social involvement. Further, the residents of Margaret Amini Scholarship Hall engage KU-TPE students in hall and campus events.

Working with KU faculty to determine strategies for learning has been “amazing” said Morningstar. “We have found faculty and instructors to be creative problem-solvers to ensure that KU-TPE students are fully included in class.”

Now nearly three months in, KU-TPE is proving to be successful. “The students have all grown comfortable with getting around campus, setting up transportation, developing a weekly schedule, and managing and balancing their academic priorities with student life and campus involvement commitments,” said Amber Grant, program coordinator. “They are rockin’ it.”