The ‘college experience’ without academics

More than 250 programs help intellectually disabled youths go to college, AP reports. That’s up from four programs eight years ago. Now, as I wrote here, federal grants and work-study funds will be available to students with intellectual disabilities, even though few are  pursuing a degree.

Generally the aim is to support the students as they take regular classes with non-disabled students. Professors sometimes are advised to modify the integrated classes by doing things like shifting away from a format that relies entirely on lectures and adding more projects in which students can work in groups.

What if the college professor thinks group projects aren’t the best way to teach college-ready students?

Disability advocates think college training will allow mentally retarded adults to qualify for better jobs than cleaning, flipping burgers or working in a sheltered workshop. But the story stresses socialization, not vocational training. At University of Central Missouri, intellectually disabled students live in a dorm, eat in the cafeteria and enjoy the “college experience.”

(Gabe) Savage, a 26-year-old from Kansas City, is grateful for it all — new friends, the chance to try out for a school play, brush up on his computer skills and even take a bowling class with non-disabled students looking to earn a physical education credit.

Is this a good use of the university’s resources? Perhaps I’m just a hard-hearted grinch, but I keep thinking of the students who want to take classes (and get a spot in a dorm) so they can get a college education, not just an experience.

College grants target ‘intellectually disabled’

As part of the president’s push to lead the world in college graduates, the  Education Department is funding $10.9 million in grants to help students with students with intellectual disabilities attend college.

“Intellectual disabilities” is the new PC term for mental retardation.

The money will fund transitional programs at two- and four-year colleges “that focus on academics and instruction, social activities, employment experiences through work-based learning and internships, and independent living.”

. . . Bergen Community College in New Jersey will use its $394,918 grant to serve 100 students with intellectual disabilities. Bergen Community College will work with Camden County College to provide job coaches who will shadow students at work sites, helping to reinforce job skills and assist with placement into employment. They will also provide peer mentors to support students in academic classes and ease integration of students into social events involving peers without disabilities.

Traditionally community agencies have provided job training, socialization and help with independent living for mentally retarded adults. It’s not clear why colleges would do better. Perhaps community colleges have some suitable job training programs, but do they really offer academic classes that meet the needs of the intellectually disabled? Education Secretary Arne Duncan said students with intellectual disabilities will “attend, complete and succeed in higher education.” Complete what?