With an increasing number of colleges offering programs for those with intellectual disabilities, a new report suggests that the programs are becoming more inclusive and leading to better employment outcomes.

For the first time, students attending postsecondary programs spent more than half of their time in inclusive college classes during the 2017-2018 academic year. And among those who exited programs that year, 44 percent had paid employment within 90 days, up 4 percent over the previous year.

The findings come from a report produced by the Think College National Coordinating Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston that offers a look at how postsecondary programs across the country are performing. It’s based on data from 48 postsecondary programs that received funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

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The programs examined served 843 students during the 2017-2018 academic year at two- and four-year colleges from coast to coast. Nearly all of the students had intellectual disability, autism or both and most had already completed high school, though about 1 in 5 were dually enrolled while still receiving special education services from their local school district. The cost to attend postsecondary programs ranged from free to $65,206 per year.

Students with disabilities increasingly had the opportunity to live on campus, the report found, with 38 percent of programs offering housing. And, there was a 114 percent rise in the number of students receiving federal Pell Grants to help cover the cost of attending.

Follow-up data was collected from 155 students who exited postsecondary programs during the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 academic years. One year after leaving the programs, 65 percent said they had paid employment and 91 percent indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their social life. However, the report found that more than two-thirds still lived with family.

“These are very positive figures,” Meg Grigal, co-director of Think College and an author of the report, told Disability Scoop. “There are few other programs that have demonstrated such strong outcomes in a relatively brief period of time. But yes, of course there is more to be done.”

Currently there are 265 postsecondary programs at colleges and universities for students with intellectual disabilities and Grigal said that pales in comparison to over 7,000 higher education choices for those without disabilities.

“We need to continue to invest in creating the expectation for students that college is possible,” Grigal said.

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