Meg Grigal & Cate Weir | Inclusive Higher Education for People with Intellectual Disabilities
Updated: Sep 28, 2022
Think Inclusive: Season 10 Episode 6
For this episode, I speak with Meg Grigal and Cate Weir from Think College about why it is important for individuals with intellectual disabilities to have the option to go to college. We discuss what inclusive post-secondary education programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities really look like. And how the data shows that these programs are successful, with learners getting jobs after graduation at three times the rate of the national average.
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Tim Villegas: Meg Grigal and Cate Weir from Think College want you to know that inclusive, higher education for people with intellectual disabilities is within reach.
Meg Grigal: College gives you so many chances to grow mature, meet people, socially, explore different potential jobs. It is a place where many people go to start their life path and giving that option to people with intellectual disabilities opens a lot of doors for them.
Tim Villegas: And college isn't just for learners who have been included in K-12 general education settings.
Cate Weir: Even for those students where inclusion wasn't really as good as they might have wanted it to be. I hope they'll still consider looking at college and, and seeing where they can, they can go if that's something that they wanna do.
Tim Villegas: But how can learners with intellectual disabilities access these programs?
Cate Weir: I think it's important to know that for example, you don't have to have a regular high school diploma to apply to these programs. , if your district or your state is one that gives IEP diplomas or non-standard diplomas of some sort that does not put you those students out of reach of college.
Tim Villegas: My name is Tim Villegas. And you were listening to Think Inclusive. presented by MCIE. This podcast exists to build bridges between families, educators, and disability rights advocates to create a shared understanding of inclusive education and what inclusion looks like in the real world.
Tim Villegas: For this episode, I speak with Meg Grigal and Cate Weir from Think College about why it is important for individuals with intellectual disabilitiesto have the option to go to college. We discuss what inclusive post-secondary education programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities really look like. And how the data shows that these programs are successful with learners, getting jobs after graduation at three times, the rate of the national average.
Tim Villegas: Thank you so much for listening. And now my interview with Meg Grigal and Cate Weir from Think College.
Tim Villegas: Today on the podcast, we'd like to welcome Meg Grigal and Cate Weir from Think College. They're here to talk about all things college for people with intellectual disabilities Meg and Cate, Welcome!,
Meg Grigal: Thanks. Happy to be here.
Cate Weir: Thank you, Tim.
Tim Villegas: Meg, to get us started. Would you just introduce yourself to our audience and then after Meg, then Cate, you can do that as well.
Meg Grigal: Sure happy to hi everyone. I'm Meg Grigal I work at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston where I direct a number of federal grants. Most of them associated with expanding access to higher ed for people with intellectual disability.
Cate Weir: Hey, I'm Cate Weir. I work the same place , as Meg at UMass Boston. And my job title is that I'm the Project Coordinator for the Think College National Coordinating Center.
Tim Villegas: Why don't we just get started on why people should be thinking individuals with intellectual disabilities even going to college, why is that important?
Meg Grigal: Good question, Tim. Well, you know, while college isn't necessarily everybody's choice, when they leave high school, it is an option for everyone who doesn't have a disability or has a disability other than intellectual disability. And for a really long time, people with intellectual disabilities didn't even have the chance to think about it.
Meg Grigal: It was never offered as an option. And because college gives you so many chances to grow mature, meet people, socially, explore different potential jobs. It is a place where many people go to start their life path and giving that option to people with intellectual disabilities opens a lot of doors for them.
Tim Villegas: Cate, did you have anything to add?
Cate Weir: I always say pretty much the same kind of things. I, I just also think that that since this movement, if you will, of inclusive higher education, people with ID has been around for about 20 years. And it kind of aligns with the movement for inclusion in more inclusive settings for people in K-12 education.
Cate Weir: So as students were treated. In more typical ways and had more typical educational experiences in K12. I, I, I think that's really fed the desire to continue to have typical experiences after high school, including the choice to go to college.
Tim Villegas: In your experience who is more likely to go to an inclusive post-secondary program and student who has been included, you know, through K12 education or a student that has not been included.
Cate Weir: I think you're incredibly better prepared to go to college if you've been included throughout your educational experience that goes kind of goes without saying, the preparation is so much better. So those students have so many more of the experiences and skills that through that inclusive education that it makes it the transition, I think a lot easier.
Cate Weir: Also the expectation that you'll go to college, I think is increased dramatically when students are included with their typical peers. My only little provision about that is I don't want people to hear that and think, well, my kid we've been fighting for inclusion in K12. Don't do a good job in my district or my kid hasn't been able to benefit as much I don't want them to think.
Cate Weir: Well, then this isn't for my kid. So yes, it absolutely impacts positively their desire, their thinking about college, preparing for college, having the skills to go. But even for those students where inclusion wasn't really. As good as they might have wanted it to be. I hope they'll still consider looking at college and, and seeing where they can, they can go if that's something that they wanna do.
Tim Villegas: Meg, did you have anything to add?
Meg Grigal: Well, I agree with Cate. I, it, it, it really does help, but what we've. At least with the data we collect, we have one project which Cate mentioned earlier, the National Coordinating Center. And in that project, we work with colleges and universities all over the country that are receiving federal funds to develop or expand higher ed programs for students with ID and the students who are coming into those programs in many cases only had segregated instruction or specialized instruction.
Meg Grigal: And while they might have a few additional support needs. It might take them a little time to develop some of the academic skills. They need to navigate their coursework or even their employment experiences.
Meg Grigal: They make up for lost time in college. And sometimes that, that is an extra, you know, skill. The, the staff there have to help them with. But I agree with Cate, if, if you hadn't been included throughout your high school experience that doesn't preclude you. And in fact, I think you're gonna benefit as much if not more, because suddenly the world's gonna open to you and you're gonna find out, oh wow. I can do this. I think given the opportunity and the supports, any student who really, really wants to go to college and that motivation factor is the key. If they really want it, they can succeed.
Tim Villegas: So what I'm hearing is for, you know, families, even with young children who maybe have this dream, that their child will go to college. But for whatever reason, the message they're getting is maybe that's not a realistic expectation. Right?
Meg Grigal: Yeah, they hear that all the time.
Tim Villegas: Mm-hmm mm-hmm so you're, you're telling them to not be not be discouraged.
Meg Grigal: Yeah, I would agree. I think hope , and vision it sounds really soft and squishy, but parent expectations are with a, like granite when it comes to predicting students outcomes. So if a parent believes a student is gonna get a job or go to college or live independently, or have, you know, not live in poverty, those students are sometimes, , 20, 30, 40 times more likely to achieve those outcomes depending on the study and the data set, but parent expectations are bedrock. They will determine students outcomes far more than what an IEP says or what a student's testing or assessment says.
Tim Villegas: So why don't we define, like, what are these programs exactly, because I think there's a misunderstanding when we talk about college. That it's exactly the same path as a typical student. And let's say, you know, if the student doesn't have the grades, or doesn't have the, whatever it is, the thing that they need to get to go on that typical path to college, these inclusive post-secondary education programs, it's not a typical path. So help our audience understand what it is. And also for the parents who are.
Cate Weir: Well, I, I think it's important to know that for example, you don't have to have a regular high school diploma to apply to these programs. , if your district or your state is one that gives IEP diplomas or non-standard diplomas of some sort that does not put you those students out of reach of college.
Cate Weir: There is an alternative pathway into these programs. We hope that once you get in them, that you're having a very, very typical and authentic college experience taking courses and doing internships and going to social events and living on campus. But the pathway in is different. And I think this is where people you want people to understand that.
Cate Weir: SAT scores are not required. ACT typical grades or certain classes on your high school transcript, those typical things are not part of the application process for students going and applying to these programs. , but it is more kind of like, do you have a desire to go to college?
Cate Weir: Do you wanna get a job after college? Do you wanna work in a real, real work for real pay? Do you wanna live more independent as independently as you possibly can do your, do your parents want you to get a paid job and live as independently as you possibly can? So there's a different set of admission requirements and there's in a different admissions process. And then the program almost exclusively offer a non-degree pathway. So you're not earning in a bachelor's degree or an associate degree. But you are earning hopefully a meaningful credential and perhaps a credential that focuses on a particular career goal of yours that may focus in areas of early childhood or Or forestry or, you know, whatever your areas of interest might be as a student. But they are so typically non-degree programs with an alternative admissions process.
Tim Villegas: So graduates that complete the program. What do they go on to?
Meg Grigal: I will say it's hard for us to speak on behalf of all graduates
Meg Grigal: have data on all graduates. So what we generally draw is as the national coordinating center, we are charged with evaluating programs. There's an acronym called tips, ID it's transition, postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disability.
Meg Grigal: It's a very long, special eddy kind of name. It's a really good program. And it's been funded since 2010. And so since that time we've collected data on every program that received federal funds, every class, each student has taken every work experience students have had. And in 2016, we were finally allowed to collect some outcome data.
Meg Grigal: So, but again, this is, I just wanna, I, I never want people to think TIPSID data. Represents all of the programs in the country, cuz it doesn't. But the outcomes are actually quite good. So we are seeing students. Leaving the programs employed at 67%. And that's paid employment. Paid employment means it's paid by the employer and it's at or above minimum wage.
Meg Grigal: And the, the national average for adults with intellectual developmental disabilities is 19%. So this is more than three times. Better outcomes. And, and we now have data for up to three years out. So it's not just, they had a job a year later or two years later. Now we're looking at data three years later and we're still having decent employment rates and they're also living more independently.
Meg Grigal: They have really high levels of satisfaction with their life. A smaller portion of students are continuing their post-secondary ed. They decided to go back to school either in a different program or maybe seeking to build on whatever credits they've acquired in their tips. Sid. So I think the emerging outcomes are really, really positive.
Tim Villegas: Yeah. It sounds like it. What do the programs look like? And , I know that's hard cuz you can't say what all of them look like, but I'm, I'm just gonna, I'm gonna pull it down to a very, , micro level because I was just recently at the division on autism and developmental disabilities conference in Tampa or Clearwater Florida and I to a presentation by the Arc of Jacksonville.
Tim Villegas: So I think it's University of North Florida, and their on campus transition program. And was nice cuz I don't, I don't think I've actually been to a, like a presentation by a program that kind of laid it all out. So I I'm just using that as a touchpoint to ask some questions. So for instance, the students in their program audit typical classes Th their students take up a spot in that class.
Tim Villegas: So it's not like they're a visitor, they actually take up a spot in that class. If there's 20 spots, they take up a spot. The professors are asked whether they want to do this or not. and so, unlike. In K12, , where it's, it's like, well, you teach all kids in college.
Tim Villegas: It seems like that's maybe a little bit different. Right. And then the support specialist, I'm not sure what they're called. But the transition people in the program. work with the professor on adapting or modifying the syllabus for that particular student. So there's, , different learning objectives for that student. So is that sound pretty typical of how it works or are there some variations there, what does it actually look like for this, for a student to go to college, in an inclusive post-secondary.
Cate Weir: What you describe is, is somewhat typical. When, when I try to talk about this is like, kind of generally what to expect when I was speaking to families. Your students should be auditing classes based on their person center plan.
Cate Weir: So the, the choice of class is based on their interests, their career goals. They also have other kinds of learning experiences, ideally individualized learning experiences to help them perhaps become more independent. Learn a little bit about the soft skills that are needed to be successful at the workplace.
Cate Weir: And those, those are again, ideally done individualized in an inclusive way, natural settings. I like the example that you gave from the presentation you went to where the faculty member sort of has to agree for the student to be in their class.
Cate Weir: And that, you know, that really is part of it because one of the huge differences between high school and college is there is no mandate or right for students to go to college. It's a hard trip for families and students to take because they've been working so hard for 12 or 14 years to understand the entitlements, to understand what their student is, do what law protects their student to an environment where it's much more about asking permission and saying, is it okay with you?
Cate Weir: And, and people can say, no, it is not okay with.
Tim Villegas: OK.
Cate Weir: I think college programs, you know, once they're well established, hopefully they're working really hard to have strong collaborative relationships with their faculty and faculty are learning that this is a terrific experience to have a, a student with disabilities like this in their classroom and that they welcome it.
Cate Weir: And they're glad to have it, but at the bottom line, at the end of the day,
Cate Weir: A college can a faculty member can say, no, I don't want that student to take my class. And a college can say, we don't wanna have this program anymore. I mean, so it's, it's really kind of a different environment, which requires a different set of emphasis advocacy skills on the form of, on the part of parents and students and a big just before I finish on that advocacy piece, a big piece of what a lot of college programs are doing for families.
Cate Weir: Is hopefully supporting them to make the transition from being the parent of a kid who's under IDEA and you are in there every day, fighting and advocating and reminding about the law and the protections to the parent of a young adult who needs to be developing their own advocacy skills, their own voice, their own making their own choices.
Cate Weir: And in a, within an environment, which is a college setting that isn't. Isn't set up for a ton of family intervention. There's a certain amount. We'll have our family open houses and we'll maybe send a family a newsletters and, and we'll try to keep families involved, but certainly college faculty don't, don't speak to their students' parents.
Cate Weir: About what's going on in the classroom. They don't go to meetings with the F with the student's parents to, you know, update them on their, on whether they're doing a good job. So that's a big transition for families as well. And it it's another thing that we, we work with programs about is to, is to acknowledge the difficulty of that transition and to support families through that transition.
Cate Weir: But it does, it does kind of have to occur. You didn't even ask me that question, but I kind of got there.
Tim Villegas: No, I'm no, I'm glad you brought it up. About, about expectations. Yeah, yeah. For parents. And I, while you said that, I was just thinking that, you know, you address the things that happen in the classroom, but, you know the students live basically live on campus. Right. I mean, for most of these programs.
Tim Villegas: So I would
Cate Weir: of the, yeah. Of about the 300 program,
Cate Weir: little over 300 programs about a little over a
Cate Weir: hundred of them are residential
Tim Villegas: Oh, okay. So not quite
Tim Villegas: half. Okay. All