Texas A&M University is opening the door to higher education for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities — making history as the first program of its kind in the state.
The school has vowed to help students with disabilities realize their dreams of becoming Aggies with a four-year post-secondary education program specifically designed to support them, the public university announced in a statement. The Aggie ACHIEVE program will begin this fall, with four students taking courses focused on independent living, career development and field specialization.
“This is not meant to be a place to come get the college experience and then go back to what you were doing before,” said Dr. Carly Gilson, assistant professor of special education in Texas A&M’s College of Education & Human Development. “The intention of this program is to provide a rigorous education, academics and employment experience that will prepare these young adults to go out and work in the community in a job they are interested in that matches their strengths.”
The university introduced the four students on its social media accounts, showing the smiling participants all holding Texas A&M banners. The students will live on campus, participate in classes and join school organizations and clubs, according to the statement.
“We are focused on the importance of being an inclusive and immersive program,” Gilson continued in the statement. “We have a campus community of 60,000 students and we want to make sure that the students in Aggie ACHIEVE are going to be integrated fully into that campus community.”
Last week, we introduced you to Miguel, a student in our new @aggieachieve program. Now, meet the other students and learn more about how our program will transform lives. 👉 https://t.co/mlUvum5oWm pic.twitter.com/heIjGYBZDj— Texas A&M Education & Human Development (@cehdtamu) May 29, 2019
There are hundreds of higher education programs across the country for people with disabilities, and Texas boasts at least 11 programs, according to Think College, a national organization working to improve higher education options for people with intellectual disabilities. However, Aggie ACHIEVE marks the state’s first four-year postsecondary education program.
The program includes a two-part curriculum. For the first two years, students will attend seminars on “independent living, career awareness and self-determination” to introduce them to college life, the school said.
In their final two years, the students will participate in internships in their field of interest and focus on career development and field specialization, the statement continued.
The new Aggies will even develop one-on-one relationships with other students –– peer mentors, lunch partners and “fitness friends” –– through ACHIEVEmates, the relational portion of the program.
“We want this to be something that, in addition to the direct population it serves, it also provides leadership and training opportunities for our current students,” Gilson added.
The students will not receive a degree from the university, but will instead earn a certificate acknowledging their completion of the program, according to the university. Students will be required to pay tuition and fees for the program, but the university is working to offset as much of the costs as possible through federal funding.