There's been a burst of news from the Education Department related to students with disabilities.
First, coming on the heels of today's Summit on Community Colleges at the White House, the department has announced a grant program that will help youths with intellectual disabilities transition to two- and four-year institutions.
From a press release:
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced the award of $10.9 million for 28 grants under two new federal programs that create opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to attend and be successful in higher education.
"President Obama has set a goal for America to have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020," Duncan said. "These new programs make an important contribution toward that goal by giving students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to receive a quality postsecondary education with the supports they need to attend, complete, and succeed in higher education."
College for students with intellectual disabilities won't look exactly the same as colleges for typically developing students. The department offered an example of how one college will use the money: "Bergen Community College in New Jersey will use its $394,918 grant to serve 100 students with intellectual disabilities. Bergen Community College will work with Camden County College to provide job coaches who will shadow students at work sites, helping to reinforce job skills and assist with placement into employment. They will also provide peer mentors to support students in academic classes and ease integration of students into social events involving peers without disabilities."
But wait, there's more! The department also announced that it was awarding nearly $20 million to colleges in order to train more special education teachers.
Of the $19.9 million in grants announced today, $13.5 million will be targeted at improving the quality and increasing the number of people who are fully credentialed to serve children with disabilities. The funds will help current and future special education professionals complete degrees, state certification, professional licenses, or state endorsement in early intervention, special education, or a related services field.
It will also support the preparation of special education paraprofessionals, assistants in related services professions (such as physical therapist assistants, occupational therapist assistants), or educational interpreters.
And as if that weren't enough, the department is also paying for a $5.6 million grant program that will support training vocational rehabilitation staff who will, in turn, help individuals with disabilities get jobs.
Just to put this all in perspective, the grants announced over the past few days total $30 million. The amount of grants distributed to states through Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for students ages 6 through 21 is about $11.5 billion.
However, the attention to postsecondary transition is one way to address the fairly dire situation many people with disabilities face when they enter the workforce. The unemployment rate among people with disabilities is 14.5 percent, compared with 9 percent among people without a disability, according to a recent report (pdf) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That gap persists among all ages and education levels, but it is most narrow among people with bachelor's degree or higher: the unemployment rate is 8.3 percent among people with a disability at that education level, compared to 4.5 percent among people who do not have a disability.