Feature Issue on Inclusive Higher Education for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities
Increasing Postsecondary Opportunities in Florida
Florida was the first state to enact legislation appropriating funds and providing a structure to expand federal legislation aimed at increasing postsecondary opportunities for students with intellectual disability (ID). The Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program and Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities (FCSUA) Act, signed in 2016, established the FCSUA at the University of Central Florida (UCF). It also defined a Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program (FPCTP), set aside scholarship funds to be awarded to eligible students enrolled in approved programs, and set aside grant funds for approved programs.
The FCSUA serves as the hub to support the development and approval of FPCTPs at state universities, state colleges, career centers, charter technical centers and not-for-profit independent colleges/universities. The Center disseminates information to students with disabilities and their families about programs, services, and supports across the state. It also administers grant and scholarship funds to FPCTPs. In addition to collaborating with state and national organizations to ensure alignment of federal requirements under the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 and quality indicators of inclusive postsecondary programs, the Center reports on statewide coordination of FPCTPs and indicators of satisfactory progress of students and performance of FPCTPs at eligible institutions.
These programs align with the federal comprehensive transition and postsecondary program application requirements, and must have the goal to increase independent living, inclusive and experiential postsecondary education, and employment opportunities for students with ID. Students must have access to courses with their peers without disabilities, and have the opportunity to earn a meaningful credential. Colleges can apply for grant funds and request continuing support every three years, a necessary component for sustainability and development. Non-competitive scholarships provided through the Act are available to students, who must maintain satisfactory academic progress to receive awards through the completion of their program. Scholarships can cover costs charged to student accounts, such as fees associated with course enrollment, transportation, technology, and industry certification exams.
There are currently 19 FPCTPs on 24 campuses. The Center provides ongoing technical assistance and professional development to support program development and implementation. There are 120 eligible institutions across the state that the Center also spends time actively recruiting to increase postsecondary education options for Floridians with ID.
Gabriel Perez graduated in 2020 from Robert Morgan Educational Center and Technical College, a Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program. He holds certification credentials in 3D animation technology and commercial art technology. “Find your passion and never give up,” he advises others. “Learn like a sponge and always go for your dream.”
To carry out its charge, several obstacles needed to be addressed. One was to establish a sound infrastructure to facilitate components of the legislation. Therefore, accounting functions to manage fiscal resources were established. This included establishing an online platform to assist FPCTPs in submitting reports related to grants, scholarships, student, and program performance.
To assist FPCTPs to plan postsecondary programs backed by research shown to lead to successful outcomes of students with ID, a structured mechanism that combines existing literature and research (Dukes et al., 2017; Grigal et al., 2012; Kohler, et al., 2016; Kohler et al., 2022) specifically addressing comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs for students with ID was developed. The Taxonomy for Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Programs (Kohler, et al., 2022) combines strategies and practices into categories that are incorporated into an online strategic planning tool. The online Strategic Planning Tool: Postsecondary Education is used each year to assess progress and identify needs in program implementation, both at approved programs and those institutions of higher education seeking approval.
A more recent obstacle was maintaining high quality programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students enrolled in FPCTPs are required to physically attend programs, so a major shift to online instruction was needed. Each FPCTP underwent rapid professional development and identified innovative ways to support students during an almost two-year period. Even though several students decided to leave programs, overall enrollment increased during this same period.
Over the Years
In the more than five years since the passage of the state legislation, the number of students with ID enrolled and the number who have earned credentials has grown substantially. The Center’s latest annual report, for 2020-21, includes data on postsecondary programs at five public universities, six state colleges, eight technical colleges and one private university. More than 300 credentials were offered to 169 enrolled students, up from 42 credentials and 48 enrolled students during the first year of implementation.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
Staff attrition and transition are ongoing issues for FPCTPs. Several programs have experienced turnover in leadership and staff, sometimes requiring extended periods of time for orientation to learn about program components and reporting requirements. We learned that whether it is staffing for new or existing FPCTPs, individuals with experience and knowledge of adults with ID and inclusive higher education are often difficult to find. Understanding the employment process and the processes of supporting adults with ID in this process takes skills that are not part of the wheelhouse of many postsecondary job seekers.
We also continue to learn how much time it takes for many higher-level administrators at IHEs to embrace what it truly means to have a comprehensive transition and postsecondary program on their campuses. Many are willing to open their doors for an experiential opportunity but carving out and creating meaningful credentials that lead to employment is an area we continue to address, particularly when institutions are wary of accreditation responsibilities.
Future directions include increasing the number of FPCTPs, credentials, certificates, industry certifications, badges, completers, and students exiting with competitive employment. A major focus is to assist institutions of higher education with increasing the implementation of evidenced-based and promising practices for postsecondary students with ID. We will also continue to support the student pipeline to FPCTPs through College and Career Transition Clubs in high schools throughout the state.
College Matters: What Students, Families, and Professionals Can Do to Support College Access and Success for Students with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities | This webinar is a five-part series for secondary and postsecondary personnel that focuses on postsecondary education for students with IDD.
Dukes III, L. L., Madaus, J. W., Faggella-Luby, M., Lombardi, A., & Gelbar, N. (2017). PASSing College: A Taxonomy for Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 30(2), 111-122.
Grigal, M. Hart, D., & Weir, C. (2012). Think College standards, quality indicators, and benchmarks for inclusive higher education. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Coston, Institute for Community Inclusion.
Kohler, P. D. Gothberg, J. E., Fowler, C. H., & Coyle, J. (2016). Taxonomy for transition programming 2.0: A model for planning, organizing, and evaluating transition education, services, and programs. Western Michigan University. https://transitionta.org/topics/effective-practices/
Kohler, P. D., Gothberg, J. E., Mahon, A. J., Andrews, W. D., & Seabrooks-Blackmore, J. J. (unpublished). A nominal group technique study identifying evidenced-based and promising practices: Taxonomy for postsecondary comprehensive transition programs.