Proposed bill would create MnSCU pilot program for disabled students

The program would help students with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

by Kevin Beckman

College-age students with intellectual and developmental disabilities could soon get the opportunity to fully participate in campus life.
Rep. Brian Daniels, R-Faribault, introduced a bill earlier this month that would create pilot programs to offer developmentally and intellectually disabled students a more typical college experience that is often out of reach. 
“[These students] need more options when they finish high school,” Daniels said. “It’s time we stop putting students with disabilities in a box.” 
The initiatives proposed by Daniels’ bill are modeled after Bethel University’s Inclusive Learning and Development program, a two-year transition and postsecondary program that serves students with disabilities like developmental cognitive disability and autism spectrum disorder.  
If passed, the bill would require Minnesota State Colleges and Universities  to create four two-year programs similar to BUILD for at least 10 students with intellectual and developmental disabilities per academic year. 
MnSCU would be able to choose which of its 54 campuses to implement the initiatives at.
“[MnSCU is] committed to the success of our diverse student population, including nearly 10,000 students with physical, learning or intellectual disabilities,” said MnSCU Communications and Media Director Doug Anderson in an emailed statement. “We look forward to working with our campuses and the Legislature to develop a program model that is appropriate and effective.”
Dawn Allen, BUILD’s executive director, said students in the program get the same access to college residential experiences as other students. They live in dorms, take elective classes, interact with their peers and participate in on-campus and off-campus internships, she said. 
“It’s just really about the opportunity,” she said. “Our students have really been able to shine and also surprise themselves a little bit with what they’re able to do when they’ve been given the opportunity.”  
In addition, students in the proposed programs would learn about financial literacy and independent living.
They would also meet with on-campus mentors, participate in peer support communities and get engaged in the community. 
To qualify for the programs, students would need to meet criteria for having an intellectual or developmental disability and complete an in-person interview, Daniels said. 
Students would also be evaluated on their potential for success in the program. Daniels said participants would need to be able to live independently and be capable of handling the course load. 
“We don’t want to set anyone up to fail,” he said. 
At the University of Minnesota, Donna Johnson, director of the University’s Disability Resources Center, said provisions for people or students with intellectual or developmental disabilities aren’t provided but can be accommodated for at certain public University events.
The University of Minnesota was considered for the bill, Daniels said, but since they would be two-year programs, it would be more practical to implement them at colleges that offer two-year degrees. 
At a recent House higher education committee meeting — Bethel student Rita Ikeri, who got an internship working with preschoolers through BUILD, said the program’s teachers and staff helped her learn independent home living.
Anika Havey, also a Bethel student, told lawmakers she was able to receive a more fulfilling college experience through BUILD, including the opportunity to be on the school’s dance team. 
“I never thought this would even be a thing that would happen in my life,” she said.