Feature Issue on Inclusive Higher Education for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities
Promoting Authentic Diversity in Higher Education
The Eileen Hoffman Hafer UMatter Program at the University of South Florida
Student enthusiasm for participation in the UMatter inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE) program is palpable. We often hear comments like, “I’m living my best life!”; “Go BULLS!”; and, “I never thought I would go to college!” Students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) have historically been excluded from higher education, but federal and state legislation has created more active transition programs and a proliferation of inclusive postsecondary education programs at colleges and universities.
The first cohort of UMatter students at University of South Florida showing off their “Go Bulls!” hand signal.
The Eileen Hoffman Hafer UMatter Program at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus is one of 19 programs across 24 Florida college campuses.
UMatter serves adults with intellectual disability (who may also have developmental disabilities) ages 18 and older, and accepts applications from throughout the United States. The program focuses on five areas of growth: academic access and enrichment, campus and community engagement, independent living skills, career development and employment, and self-determination. Program staff members gather information from admitted students’ interest inventories and career surveys to support their self-discovery of potential curricular, co-curricular, and career interests. The resulting data emanates from a student-centered process and tool known as the STAR Person-Centered Plan (Student Transitioning to Adult Roles Person-Centered Planning Process). The assessment results and other information gathered as part of the STAR planning process drives course selection, choices regarding campus extracurricular activities, job shadowing opportunities, and future internships. Self-determination is incorporated by providing students with opportunities to engage in activities such as goal setting, choice-making about course selection, and developing weekly action plans. Additionally, students participate in a weekly workshop, where they role-play decision-making scenarios. The program facilitates students’ understanding of their academic strengths and students speak directly with professors regarding the need for accommodations. Self-determination is the “umbrella” skill set through which all other programmatic elements are structured.
We often hear comments like, 'I'm living my best life!'
UMatter students engage in academic and enrichment activities primarily through participation in college courses each semester and including at least one summer term. Students enroll in classes, with the support of an academic mentor, along with other traditionally matriculating students. Examples of courses include Introduction to Teaching, Science for All Students, and Computers and Business. Students are expected to actively engage in class discussion, complete readings and assignments, and take exams. Additionally, some students are working toward credentials in customer service and retail sales. The college experience also provides an opportunity to develop other critical adult life skills.
UMatter includes a focus on the development of independent living skills. Students live in campus residential facilities and practice the skills necessary to live outside the family home. They are responsible for managing meals, laundry, and cleaning of living areas, as well as general time management, with assistance from a residential mentor.
Full campus and community inclusion is a foundational tenet of the UMatter program. Peer mentors facilitate students’ participation in campus and community social activities. Students learn how to identify campus clubs and activities of interest, including how to officially join a club and use an electronic calendar to keep up with campus activities, from attending football games and other sporting events to dances and a community parade.
With fully competitive integrated employment as an adult life goal, the college experience is career-focused throughout, with multiple work-based learning opportunities (e.g., job shadowing, internships) required as part of the course of study each semester, both on campus and, eventually, in the community. Prior to program completion, students are supported to identify and maintain competitive integrated employment (particularly in the second year) in a career interest field. Students who successfully complete the UMatter program earn a certificate of achievement, which conveys to employers the individual has fully met program requirements. Requirements include auditing at least nine USF career-relevant courses and participating in internships and other career exploration activities. “Programs such as UMatter significantly improve the annual wages of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” with data indicating approximately a 75% increase in annual earnings as compared to those who do not participate in IPSE programs (Miller et al., 2019). Programs such as UMatter provide people with IDD the opportunity to continue their education and personal growth in a typical post-high school educational setting, like any other traditionally matriculating student. Student outcomes clearly indicate profound benefit for the both the student and those that make up the student’s community.
Eileen Hoffman Hafer UMatter Program | This digital brochure includes admissions criteria and other information about the UMatter postsecondary education program.
Miller, S. C., Sax, C. L., Tucker, M. S. (2019). Examining association between postsecondary education, earnings, and provision of college and university training related to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities served by vocational rehabilitation. Journal of Rehabilitation, 85(1), 22 – 34.