Senators Seek Higher Ed Access for Disabled Students

Students with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) in Colorado often make it through High School only to find the doors to higher education closed to them, due to an almost total lack of programs tailored to their unique needs and circumstances. But Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) and Senator John Cooke (R-Greeley) want to swing open the doors of higher ed to IDD students by creating a first-in-Colorado pilot program that road-tests ways to make that happen. Their bill, Senate Bill 196, passed its first test today with bipartisan approval of the Senate Education Committee.

"There is an education gap that exists in our state, and now we have an opportunity to solve it," Cadman told the committee when introducing the bill. "By 2020, the vast majority of new jobs created in Colorado will require beyond a high-school education. Without access to post-secondary education, individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities will be far less able to compete for these jobs and follow their dreams."

The Inclusive Higher Education Pilot Program will create a partnership with Colorado universities allowing students with disabilities to enroll in two undergraduate courses per semester, along with an advisory course to assist with other classes. Partnering on the pilot program are the University of Northern Colorado, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and Arapahoe Community College.

A number of stakeholders and advocacy groups appeared at Wednesday's hearing to voice support for the measure. All agreed that welcoming IDD students to campus would benefit higher education more broadly, including faculty and non-IDD students.

"Eighty five percent of families of individuals with IDD said they were not satisfied with the opportunities for their students beyond a high school education," added Cooke, suggesting there will be a significant demand for this expanded access to higher education. "There’s absolutely no reason Coloradans with IDDs should be going out of state to attend college, as many are now, when they could be pursuing education and opportunity right here in Colorado."

"That we haven’t recognized the need for this sooner is disappointing," said Cadman, noting that Colorado is one of only a handful of states that does not provide these opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities. "It's our hope that this effort will help Colorado make up for lost time."

Please contact Sean Paige at 719-337-0355 with any questions.

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