Feature Issue on Inclusive Higher Education for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities
Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) and the Massachusetts state special education law provisions entitle students with disabilities to transition-related services beginning at age 14 until age 22. As a result, students with intellectual disability (ID) most often stay in high school until age 22 while their peer group without disabilities move on to more typical adult options, such as higher education and employment. Students with ID deserve equal access to higher education and employment alongside students without disabilities beginning at age 18.
In this video about MAICEI, a student confers with an education coach at University of Massachusetts Boston.
The Massachusetts State legislature responded to this need in 2007 by including language in the state budget to support a network of grant-funded partnerships between public colleges and universities and school districts to plan, implement, and sustain concurrent enrollment initiatives. These initiatives allow students to stay enrolled in high school and enroll in postsecondary education at the same time. They also offer authentically inclusive academic, social, and career development experiences on college campuses. Many students with ID have remaining academic, social, and career development transition goals to address through their individualized education programs (IEPs). The 18- to 22-year-old student population with ID has grown significantly, and school districts are now required to support their transition to adult services. Many districts face challenges developing inclusive transitional experiences.
The intent of the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI) is to address these challenges by providing access and supports that lead to academic, social, and career development success for eligible students with ID alongside their non-disabled peers enrolled in Massachusetts public 2- and 4-year colleges and universities. Since 2007, more than 2,000 students have had the opportunity to go to college and to:
- discern their own preferences, interests, needs, and strengths through person-centered planning
- become advocates for their own choices and decisions around academic, social, and work activities
- acquire career and life skills by taking inclusive college credit and non-credit bearing courses related to their career goals and other areas of interest
- access student support services, as other college students would
- participate in college life activities
- experience integrated competitive employment opportunities
Promising Practices that Lead to Success
Establishing MAICEI partnerships across Massachusetts has influenced many positive changes, including building collaborations and resource-sharing among schools and awareness about transition services.
Some MAICEI successes include:
College-school partnerships: Since 2007, the MAICEI initiative has grown from seven to 14 college-school partnerships, with a total of 180 local school district partners. A college program coordinator administers each partnership and oversees student engagement, educational coaches, and peer mentors. A school liaison oversees the hiring of educational coaches and student recruitment with assistance from student IEP teams. Each partnership holds team meetings to sustain and strengthen the partnership.
Inclusive course access: Students supported in MAICEI take a variety of classes in fields and disciplines, based on their interests. Examples of courses range from science to visual and performing arts. Students are frequently advised to consider courses that incorporate universal design for learning features, small group learning environments, and applied learning classes that allow students to closely link academic learning to real-life application.
Credit, non-credit, and audit options and support: Students can take a course for credit or audit, like their college peers without disabilities. MAICEI programs must support students to access typical academic support services that are offered to all students on campus. Schools provide coaches to students supported by MAICEI and colleges provide peer mentors. Many students supported by MAICEI are encouraged to take advantage of in-class learning resources such as peer tutoring, small group work, and office hours with instructor.
Career development: One important goal of MAICEI is to improve employment outcomes for students with ID. This goal shapes much of the person-centered planning process, including course selection, credit/audit choices, and the ongoing opportunities for independent learning. Educational coaches, typically hired by the school district partners in each program, are vital to the process of aligning program and campus resources with student needs. The college/university provides equally important career development resources. Many students in MAICEI programs take advantage of on-campus internships and on-campus jobs, including tracking statistics for sports teams and leading campus tours.
All students participate in career development activities, such as creating work portfolios, job shadowing, and informational interviews. These activities are monitored though the Massachusetts Work-based Learning Plan.
Program oversight and advisory board: The MAICEI initiative state director and advisory board oversee the MAICEI partnerships at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. The state director recruits higher education institutions to join MAICEI, among other duties. The advisory board consists of stakeholder representatives, including state education and disability departments and special education administrators.
Three primary challenges are program expansion across colleges and universities, school district investment, and the need for more robust competitive integrated employment options.
Program expansion: The 14 MAICEI partnerships across Massachusetts serve approximately 225 students in 176 school districts. However, there are 28 public institutes of higher education in Massachusetts, which means another 14 partnerships could be serving students with ID.
District investment in transition services: Some local education agencies do not want to reallocate existing transition resources. As a result, they maintain their traditional transition services (e.g., life skills classes, rotation through unpaid employment options, and community-based instruction) rather than replace them with inclusive college-based options that align with what students without disabilities do post high school.
More robust employment options: The employment experiences of students supported by MAICEI too often mirrors the experiences they would have had in a school-based transition program. More emphasis must be paid to accessing campus career resources and collaborating with community providers to develop jobs and work opportunities for students on par with their college experiences.
After 15 years, MAICEI has become an accepted option for students with ID who are seeking inclusive academic, social, and career development opportunities in Massachusetts public colleges and universities. These state-funded partnerships are developing capacity to sustain themselves through institutionalization of cost sharing between school and college/university partners. Colleges and universities have also incorporated key program positions into their institutional budgets and integrated program staff into their campus faculty and staff cohorts. Nationwide, MAICEI continues to be one of the few authentically inclusive models of support to young adults with ID before they complete their secondary schooling experiences.
Several key influences inform the immediate future of the initiative. Through outreach efforts to non-participating college and university campuses, we have learned that there is a specific need to better document the numbers and experiences of students with all types of disabilities benefitting from higher education in Massachusetts. Unlike recent data collection documenting efforts to narrow achievement gaps for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, very little data exist about achievement gaps among students with disabilities, including students of color and students with disabilities from low-income backgrounds. We do not have data about students’ successes, nor the array and costs of institutional provisions supporting this success. We must make organized efforts to more formally document the experiences of all students with disabilities to contribute to understanding how the unique sub-population of students eligible for MAICEI will best be served.
National efforts to improve the success of historically underrepresented populations of students in higher education emphasizes the importance of educating both families and school-aged students about the importance of attending college. Expanding existing conversations about equity in higher education to students with disabilities is important.
MAICEI alumni, their families, and teachers report that the initiative has made dramatic differences in the lives of students, particularly in terms of individual self-determination and social growth. Concerted efforts to document measurable student outcomes are critical to the expansion of the program. It will also demonstrate the benefits of authentically inclusive learning environments.
Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI) | This video discusses the founding of MAICEI, a partnership program for inclusive education.
Benezra, M. (2014). A Task Force on Higher Education for Students with Intellectual Disability and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Boston, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC); 2014, 1-28.
Igdalsky, L., Gabbard, G. & Price, M. (2020). Report to the Legislature: 2019. Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment. MA Department of Higher Education. Retrieved at https://www.mass.edu/strategic/maicei/documents/report-to-the-legislature-FY19.pdf
Massachusetts Special Education Law (Chapter 766). M.G.L. c. 69, § 1B; c. 69, §§ 1J and 1K, as amended by St. 2010, c. 12, § 3; c. 71, § 38G.
United States. (2011). Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004. [Bethesda, MD :ProQuest].