Do you have a child with an intellectual disability? Does you child talk about going to college? Did you know college may be a real possibility? There are over 300 special inclusive college programs at colleges and universities across the United States, and they are all possible because of Think College, a group of projects at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Institute of Community Inclusion. In today's episode, Cate Weir, the Coordinator of the Think College National Coordinating Center, shares how college can be a meaningful, productive, effective opportunity for your child with an intellectual disability to gain skills that can lead to effective competitive employment. This is an incredibly rich and informative resource for your children with intellectual disabilities.
What questions did I ask when considering this program for my child and What questions did I wish I asked?
Rethinking College | Think College
November 3, free webinar
When young people with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to continue their education after high school and go to college, do internships, get work experience, the outcomes are dramatically improved according to the research that we do for these students.
Do you have a child with an intellectual disability? Do you have concerns about the future? Are you trying to figure out what to do next after graduation? Have you ever even thought about college as an option for teens with intellectual disabilities because many parents and educators don't even consider that an option. Today's podcast is going to tell you all about Think College. My guest is Cate Weir, and Cate is the coordinator of the Think College National Coordinating Center. And she's here to give us some information about the college and how it can make a difference in your child's life. So welcome to College, Disabilities, and Success Episode 40, Think College for Students with Intellectual Disabilities, by Mickie Hayes, the opinions of this podcast are my own, but please reach out to your college physicians or legal services for any additional information.
Hi Cate! It 's so nice to see you. It's been a while. I
It's really great to see you too. It has been a while.
Yes, it has. I am really looking forward to hearing all about Think College. So could you give us a little bit of insight into just exactly what ThinK College is, what its purpose is and what it does to support families and kids with intellectual disabilities?
I will. We are always happy to have the opportunity to explain to people all the things that think college can do. Think College is the name that we give a project or group of projects, actually, at the University of Massachusetts Boston Institute for Community Inclusion. So there we run a number of grant funded projects, all related to one main goal, which is to increase opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to go on to college, and to have a meaningful experience in college and to graduate and go on to work and competitive employment. So those are our main, that's our main mission. And we do that through the operation of multiple projects. And a lot of what I'm telling folks about if they're interested, they can go to a website, www.thinkcollege.net, and they'll be able to really see what I'm talking about and learn more details about everything. But I'll give you the 30,000 foot view. We currently have four projects listed on our homepage of our website, okay, all of which we see as part of Think College. So think College is a big umbrella, under which we do multiple projects. I am the coordinator of the Think College National Coordinating Center. And so that's one of our big projects where we do a lot of technical assistance and training, also collect data from certain programs around the country so that we can get a better picture of what's working and what's not working within college programs. So we do conduct research, we do technical assistance and training, we publish a number of resources, and we share all of that information through multiple dissemination strategies. We have our website, we have a lively social media, and I'll tell you a little bit more about some particular social media accounts we have that are just for families, we also have a regular newsletter. So we really try to keep people who are interested in this field of college for individuals with intellectual disabilities formed and engaged through our our activities. So it's it's a comprehensive project, we have over 20 people on different projects under think college right now. So it's really exciting, and we love to make sure that families really know about the opportunities that their sons and daughters can have, and how Thin College can help.
Nice, really nice. And I'm sure the pandemic complicated everything when you're trying to do outreach, but you did.
Yes. I mean, there isn't anything that didn't touch, right?
Exactly, exactly. But you said you have some good social media for families in particular.
Now, one of the things that I just loved over the last, I think we started this three or four years ago, we have a page or group on Facebook called Families Think College. Oh, you can find that by just searching families in college and your Facebook and it is a closed group. So there isn't you just have to respond to a little questionnaire about who you are when you'd like to join the group. But all it requires is that you be a family member, or other loved one, or supporter of an individual with disabilities.
So, once you tell us that then you're able to join the group, and it really is lively. And what I like about it is although we provide the platform, and we do moderate it and administer the page, the activity that goes on is all parent to parent.
Oh, wow, yeah.
Then come on. Yeah, it's so great. They'll ask, you know, parent will ask the question. Sometimes it's directly related to college like, does anybody have a kid that went to College of Charleston program? Or does anybody know anything about the program at Kent State, and people who maybe had gone in a visit there or actually attended there will, will come in and offer their opinions. But they also cover a lot of other things that are important to train a parent of transition age youth They talk about benefits planning, they talk about
How to get ready for what you should be doing in your IEP is that can help your son or daughter be prepared for college.
Lots of good advice, lots of encouragement of each other. So it's really a nice community. I believe there's close to 2000 members, maybe well, less than that. So it's, it's really, it's a really cool one. So I really like it when families talk, learn about that and can join in the conversation.
Well, one of the things that I noticed on your website was the map of the United States and the programs that are all over the country. That has really grown like crazy when I look at the map. Do you have any idea how many colleges are out there anymore? With programs?
Yeah, well, we try very hard to keep a record of every program in the country, there may be a few that we miss, but right now we have 309 programs on our website.
Okay, so now, at least in our 50, more than I remember, when
It's usually a lot of times a way of presenting or, we share a graph that sort of illustrates the growth in programs. We started counting programs with a very informal survey about 14 years ago, and we found like 26 programs that were doing this. And since then, there's been an investment by the federal government with the department of education funding programs, like the one that you worked for at USF, for example, as well as a lot of other people getting involved. Not just federal funds, but state funds have been supporting the development of programs, individual donors have been supporting it because people really believe in the possibilities for when young people with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to continue their education, after high school and go to college, do internships, get work experience. The outcomes are dramatically improved, according to the research that we do for these students. And so people are really investing in the development of programs. And so as you said, Mickey, we've gone from, you know, like I said, 25, or 30, perhaps, to 309, today, and always adding new programs. So on our website, we call it College Search, the big box on our homepage that says College Search, and if you click there, it is the only directory in the United States of programs for students with intellectual disability. And then you can find a list where you can, you can search by your state, for your listeners that are from your state, in Florida. Florida has done an amazing job investing in these opportunities. And there are 26 different options. Just in Florida
I was just amazed when I when I saw that. I believe when I was establishing programs in Florida, I think we were at 14 or 15, what, six years ago, so the growth is tremendous, absolutely fine. And there's such a need for it. Because I really think that there are so many kids with intellectual disabilities ,and their parents who never ever saw college as even a remote possibility. And any more you need some sort of college background and experience just to go to work. And, so things get very frustrating, I think, for that group of students.
The families feel that, you know, perhaps their sons and daughters, who have been, you know, working hard and getting through high school, and then they don't know what the options are for them after high school and in college. Like you said, it's often not brought up in IEP meetings or offered as an alternative or a choice. You know, it's going to be a choice, some students are going to love the opportunity to continue to go to school, other students can't wait to get out of school.
You know, there's, it's not going to be it's not going to be a choice that everyone's going to make, but it ought to be a choice that everybody has.
That's always my that's always my mantra, that you need to know it's an option and then to explore it and think about whether it's a good fit, but it is exciting to see more and more opportunities around the country making it more and more of a real possibility for more young people.
And I think to what you said about the Facebook group with families, talking to other families and other kids who have gone to college, who has been in a program, what their experiences have been, you know, good and bad because college is the real world. So its nice to be able to touch base with like minded people.
Yeah, and people when they first hear about it, they have a lot of questions. So not only can they go to our Facebook group and reach out to, like you said, people like themselves, parents who are struggling and, and learning right along beside them, but they can also contact in college. We run a comprehensive help desk out of Think College, which is always available by email. The people who man the help desk do work Monday through Friday. So we have kind of a more business hours in that way. But we take questions, you know, 24-7, that can be submitted to us on the help desk, and then as soon as we are able to, and we really pride ourselves on trying to be prompt, we answer those questions right away, either through responding to the email, or sometimes we set up phone conversations, because family, sometimes, they just I don't know, I don't have one question, I have a million. I don't even know where to start, actually. So we try to give them a place to start nice, have a you know, have a half hour conversation on the phone, and just start to get to the bottom of some of the early questions. And we'll talk to family and parents multiple times, speak to a parent of a junior in high school, "Oh my gosh, I just first heard about these options," and I'll just give a general overview about how to decide if it's a good fit and maybe what you can be doing to prepare. And then I'll hear from that family, same family again a year later. Okay, he's a senior now we're ready to go looking at colleges. So it's, it's exciting for us to support families in those ways as well.
What kinds of things once the kids get into a college program? What do they do? I mean, these are inclusive programs.
Thats a really, really good question, Mickie. I feel that that is actually question number one is, is this possible? Does it exist? Right? And then once you find that it does exist, you sort of go, okay, but how does it work? Right, exactly. We're not like I that's exactly right. And that is a really good question that most people have. So the way I like to describe it is that these are, these are college programs. And like you said, Mickey, they are, when we help to design them, they are, you know, high quality, inclusive programs, meaning the student is going to college, they're not going to special ed classroom on a college campus, they're going to college, they are important for people to understand really as Yeah, you know, they're, they're a college student with a lot of the responsibilities of a college student. But there are additional supports put in place, because I think this is a big question for families, I can't, I can't see my kid maybe walking across campus by themselves or being independent enough to, you know, go to a college class. So the supports are there to support the student, in addition to the regular accommodations that a student with a disability might get. So there's additional support provided by the program. And the program has its own course of study, if you... that's what we call it. That means the classes and the other activities that the students do throughout the day. So most programs are supporting students to take a college class, or to, although they may audit that class, that's kind of a fancy term. But that just means the student is, is there in the classroom, learning as much as they possibly can, getting support, but they may not be required to do all of the papers or take all of the tests. And that's what audit status provides to them is an ability to get in there and learn without maybe some of the more challenging aspects being required.
That's an important point for parents to distinguish. Because when you're in a college class for credit, you have to abide by what the college class has set up. There are no modifications. And always, I always say this if you're in a college class for credit, and the professor says you must memorize 50 vocabulary words, you have to figure out a way to do that. You can't modify it down to 20 or 10. But in an audit situation where you're not taking it for credit, but you're auditing it for the Think College program, or the special program that your college has established, when you audit a class, then you can do the modifications, then you can do the limitations. And so you're looking at two different scenarios here. And I just wanted to point that out, so people didn't get those, those two concepts mixed up.
Because yes, this is probably something that people will still have questions about, one of those complicated pieces. But but it is important, I think, generally to understand, as Mickie explained really well. There are ways for students to meaningfully participate in the college class, and have some modification if needed, and because of this ability to audit the class necessary. Yeah, and the other thing I think that people wonder about early on when they first heard about these options is how do students get how do they get into college because people think about GPAs in high school and stuff. transcripts, and SAT scores and essays and all the things that often go into the application process. Another thing that these programs have in common is that they all have, they have an admissions process that is different from the college's admissions process. There is still an admission process, you still have to apply, you may or may not get accepted. So those things are still true, but what they require for admission is not the same thing. For example, Mickie, at your program that you worked with at University of South Florida, St. Pete has admissions requirements for degree seeking students. But your program had different admission requirements because they weren't non degree seeking. So the students in this approach programs earn a credential at the end, they earned typically a certificate of some kind, but not typically an associate's degree or. It is a meaningful credential because, not only taking classes, but also getting work experiences, doing internships, exactly learning to be more independent on campus, but gaining in their independent living skills. also working on career development skills. So they're learning a great deal of really valuable content through the program.
And meeting other students who are gen-ed students at college, informing those kinds of relationships that they might not have had a chance to form had they not gone into that college program. And it's so good.
College campuses are just so rich, rich environments for helping young people learn about their, what they're passionate about what who their people are, you know, you find different groups that you hang out with clubs that you can join, athletics, I mean, there's just so much going on. So the social opportunities, like you said, Mickie, and just making friends. It's just so that's so much a big part of it, too.
It is, it really is. And a lot of the programs have mentorships built into them, a mentoring program. I plan to interview Christian, who was our mentor coordinator when we were in the Stingray program. I already talked to him about doing a podcast. I had talked to him earlier about clubs and organizations. He's in another episode. And I said, I want to bring you back for mentoring. Once I talked to Kate, and get a chance to talk to Think College, would you come back for to talk about mentoring? And he just his, his eyes lit up, he was, its, I know it's in his it's in his blood. He just he absolutely loved the mentoring component of it. Because it meant so much to help transition the kids from a situation that they never expected to be found in, on a college campus, to now what what do I do? How do I act? Where do I go?
Getting that support and encouragement, and just straight up friendships? People their own age, and so yeah, programs do establish many, if not most, programs have a really robust peer, what they call peer mentoring program. So students, that support that I mentioned earlier, often that is provided by other undergraduate or graduate students that were on campus who are just interested in getting to know more about people with disabilities. They may be going into a field where they're going to be working with people with disabilities, but sometimes that's not the case. It's just, they just enjoy being able to be part of that community. And students that I've spoken to that have been peer mentors are usually incredibly enthusiastic on it.
They really are amazing. And then after they're done, the the end belief is that kids with intellectual disabilities are going to be more employable. It makes sense.
Internships and things you had mentioned.
Yeah, they really have an opportunity to explore career interests. And, you know, the classes that they take, we believe, you know, those are related to their career interests. So they're taking classes in careers that they're interested in. They're having internship experiences on and off campus, as well as, in many cases, paid employment experiences, while they're still in school. All those things, research shows, really make it much more likely that that young person will be employed in competitive employment, when they leave the program.
Exactly. And I'm going to pull out the point you just made about research shows, because Think College does research and keeps data and helps to build programs and relationships and support based on research because you are research based.
Exactly right. When one of our main jobs at the National Coordinating Center is to collect data. There's also college programs, as I mentioned earlier, that receive federal funds to either establish or expand their program. I'll just throw an throw an acronym out here in case you see it on our website or you hear somebody using it. You'll hear the acronym, TPSID, TPSID, and that stands for Transition and Post-Secondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disability. And we use it all the time, and I'm sure many people don't know what we're talking about. But now your listeners do know what we're talking about. The TPSID program is a federally funded model demonstration program. And our job is to work with those folks to create a high quality program, and to collect data on the practices of their program and the experiences and outcomes of their students, so that we can use those data to inform the field about what practices work, to result in better outcomes. And we also support the tracking of those students post graduation so that we can see what they're doing with their college education, so that we can use those data to inform the field about what practices work, to result in better outcomes. And we also support the tracking of those students post graduation so that we can see what they're doing with their college education. Over the years, we've been collecting data from different types of programs for over 11 years now. And those data show that students in those programs are typically employed at a rate of 60 to 70% competitive employment. And that's, that's a good number, we always want to get that number higher. But when you put that in perspective of the employment rate, typically of individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities, adults in the community, those rates are hovering around 17, or 18%, and have been there stagnant for many years. So the students in these programs definitely are showing that these programs are having a positive impact on their on their life after after college as well.
And I think that's a good question for a parent to inquire if they're looking at a program is what kinds of internship possibilities are there for my child that could lead to employment?
Yeah, you mentioning that a good question to ask makes me think of another resource. I'll give a quick shout out to because this one is, we designed it specifically for families. On our college search page, at the top above the map, there's a link to what we call our How to Think College Guide to College Searches. And what we have done there is I worked with multiple parents, and ask them what questions did you ask when you were checking out different college programs? Or what questions do you wish you'd asked? And I got a lot of great information. So we've got those organized by different category, residential services, employment services, academics, and there's dozens of questions that you can consider asking. Now, you might not want to ask all of them, it might be a little overwhelming. But you know, this way you can look at and say, oh yeah, that's a good idea. That's what's important to my son or daughter. I want to make sure we ask that question.
Cate, I know one of the issues that impacts parents is cost. And I know going to college can be very expensive. Can a student get financial aid to go into a Think College program?
The programs that serve students with intellectual disability, there is another category of them. And over 100 of the programs that we have listed on our website, are able to offer federal financial aid to students with intellectual disability.
Over 100. Well, that's good! Over 100 now.
Yes, that this is something new that was established back in 2009. But since 2009, there has been a steady increase. They get approved as a Comprehensive Transition Program. That's another acronym you might see, or CTP. If they have that approval, then students attending those programs are able to get financial aid. And we indicate that on our college search page, but you can actually filter and just look at programs that offer financial aid. In any program you're looking at, you can see if they offer financial aid, you'll see a little dollar sign icon. So students who are getting financial aid at the CTP program, they don't have to have a regular high school diploma, that if they have a certificate of attendance or some other alternative IEP diploma, they're still eligible. And they also don't have to be earning a degree. So those are two criteria for financial aid that have been waived, or an exception has been set up, for students attending these programs.
Right. And in case anybody wonders, it is a process that the college itself has to go through with their financial aid department. And it's like anything else, some colleges are very user friendly, when it comes to that and you might be at a college that establishes financial aid for the for Think College programs, and then you may be at other places that don't have that.
Yeah, the programs differ, you know, that's why the college search page is so helpful to just sort of start to get your fingers on it because some offer financial aid and as we said more and more do. Others offer housing, some do not. Some are at community colleges, some are at four year universities, some are at technical colleges. So there's a wide variety, which is nice, but also it can be confusing because right But yeah, you know, check it out, because it's really interesting to see the differences around the country or the way these programs, excellent. There are other options for paying for college, too, beyond financial aid. I'm preparing to do a webinar in a couple of months where I try to share some of these other possibilities, because that is a big challenge.
Maybe you can come back and we can talk about financial aid specifically, once you get your webinar going.
Right. There's a lot of different things to at least consider or to look at. Excellent, excellent, you know, and that's why it's so important for us to get the word out about these opportunities, because we want people to hear about them and be able to plan for them, you know, not before they're leaving high school, or 20 years old, that they have time, while they're still in high school, to say no, I'm going to go to college. And these are some skills that people think, you know, if I have these skills, I'm going to do better, I'm going to have more fun, I'm going to have a better time, I'm going to get more out of it.
And I can go to college like a sibling. And that's also another issue.
And we're not, you know, like a lot of students today, hopefully more and more, are included in general education and within their high school community, right, and kids that they're friends with, or are going off to college. And you know, we want them to know that they have that they have that same opportunity.
So if as a parent, if you are interested in learning more about Think College, everything you could ever want to know is on their website. Cate, would you give us that website link again, and it'll be...
Absolutely. Yeah, come visit us at www.thinkcollege.net to look for the places we try to call out make it clear where there are particular resources for students and families. So look for those locations, I can send some direct places where we collect up what we think are some of the most important resources for family. But then, you know, the more you explore, the more you'll find. And don't hesitate to reach out to us at our help desk, if you're looking at our website and have questions that come up. And that's firstname.lastname@example.org. thats our help desk address.
So we'll make sure that gets in the show notes as well. Well, Cate, this has been awesome. I mean, I knew I knew what I wanted to do this that you were the person I needed to talk to, and that the parents who are out there needed to hear. I mean, I'm familiar enough with the programs, but I can't do it justice, I really, I really needed you to share your expertise. So I thank you for that very, very much.
Yeah, well, we make a good team, because you certainly are good researchers in this field as well. But it's fun for me to be able to share what think college can offer to families and how we try to support the development of young people and how we really wish that's been our goal in life is to make sure that every student has the choice to go to college, and that they know what their options are.
And that is absolutely true. Thank you, Kate. This has been wonderful. Thank you, Mickey. Thanks for inviting me. I appreciate it.
I'm looking forward to talking to you again. Yes, anytime. Be sure to check my show notes today because they have all the links for all of the resources that Kate has told us about. If you want any additional information, don't hesitate to contact think college, or don't hesitate to contact me at email@example.com. Thats MICKIEteaches@gmail.com and I will be glad to get back to you and put you in touch with people who can help. In the meantime, thank you for joining us today and have a great rest of the day. Bye! information contained throughout this podcast has been gleaned from my own personal experiences, but to ensure accuracy please contact the Disability Services at the College of your choice to have first hand information and the most up to date policies and procedures fall over your particular institution of higher education. The content in any of these podcasts is not intended as a substitute for information from legal, educational or medical professionals. Always seek the advice of your attorney or qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have with regards to legal, educational, or medical concerns.