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College Programs for Students With Intellectual Disabilities Grow With Little Oversight

Picture of three smiling young women on a college campus

From Best Colleges, Article by Matthew Arrojas

It was never a question of whether Kellyn Donahoe would go to college like her four older siblings. However, when her mother started to look for viable options for her daughter with Down syndrome near their home in northeast Ohio, she was surprised — and disappointed — with the lack of choices in their area.

While her other children had dozens of colleges to choose from, Sandy Donahoe told BestColleges that her daughter realistically only had three possibilities. "We didn't realize how limited it was until we actually started searching," she said. Nonetheless, with nearly two full semesters in the books, Sandy Donahoe said she is over the moon with the choice the family ultimately made.

Kellyn Donahoe enrolled in career and community studies at Kent State University in fall 2022. Her mother said the experience has allowed her to live independently, engage in university clubs and activities, learn self-advocacy skills, and begin to pursue her passion for working with children and athletes in education.

Moreover, it gives her daughter a chance to prove to her peers that she belongs.

"It's not just important for her to know she can go to college and continue her education," Sandy Donahoe said. "It's for others to view people with disabilities as contributing members of society, too." The Donahoe family's story is made possible thanks to a decade-long campaign to call attention to programs for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

It's a campaign that's largely succeeded. According to Think College, the preeminent resource for information about these programs, there are 316 such programs across the U.S. That includes 106 housed at two-year community colleges and 187 at four-year colleges and universities.

Nancy Murray, senior vice president at advocacy group Achieva, told BestColleges the number of programs exceeds the expectations she had a decade ago. "The idea that these students would go to college — even 10 years ago — this was not something that was really on most people's radar," she said.

Despite the progress, one major hurdle remains to hold back the perception of legitimacy: accreditation. Some institutions allow students to access federal funds to pay for the programs, but besides checking a few regulatory checkboxes, there is no oversight of the quality of these programs.

It's why the Think College National Coordinating Center has been working to create
standards since 2010, Think College's co-director, Meg Grigal, told BestColleges.

Read complete article.