A new program is being started at Southern State Community College (SSCC) for those with intellectual disabilities. Although this new program will be housed at the Hillsboro campus, individuals from all over are welcome to take part — including those in Fayette County.
The new program is titled “College to Career Experience” or CCE for short. The CCE program coordinator is Sonja Wilkin.
Wilkin has acted as a parent advocate for post secondary education, has worked with institutions other than SSCC, and sits on the board for the Ohio Statewide Consortium.
According to www.ohioconsortium.wixsite.com/osconline, “the goal of Ohio’s Statewide Consortium (OSC) is to build, enhance and sustain comprehensive transition programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) across Ohio.”
Wilkin further explained that SSCC decided to join the consortium to bring the program into a rural setting. Wilkin then came on board to help facilitate that program.
The purpose of the new CCE program is to provide those with intellectual disabilities a chance to take part in personalized post secondary education that utilizes person-centered planning.
Wilkin explained the program is geared toward students typically 18-26 years of age, who want to continue learning in a classroom environment, who want to engage in their community, and who want to focus on skills for gaining employment and greater independence.
“It is basically helping them to elevate to gain an opportunity and to pursue to what level they can given their disability,” said Wilkin.
The program focuses on inclusive academic courses of interest, career readiness and independent skills building, college and/or community internship employment pathways, and goals to become an involved member on campus and within the community.
Some of the soft skills addressed in the program include career expectation, work place expectations, interview skills, college success skills like emailing and communication, study skills, interaction with instructor and peers, social media safety, interpersonal skills such as budgeting and nutrition, stress management skills and mindfulness.
A common misconception is that students who choose to enter post secondary programs, such as this one, have to function like traditional college students, according to Wilkin. This is not the case as students in the program can take modified courses or audited courses.
A class for credit is a traditional college course while a class for audit allows modifications. Which pathway is taken depends on the individual student’s abilities.
“When we do an audit, we can do modifications. Audits are to determine what can be acquired from a class and benefits are to be gleaned from everyone involved. Helping family and students to identify abilities and interests, then determine how to get the soft skills needed in employment and in the environment, then match up with an internship,” explained Wilkin. “Diversity of abilities are welcome – this isn’t geared for one medical diagnosis of an intellectual disability. We just need to confirm there is an intellectual disability—this may be through the secondary school, it may be through IDEA.”
Wilkin has first-hand experience to assist families interested in the program as her son has intellectual disabilities. Upon graduation of high school they were unsure of what steps to take next — like many families in the same situation. Wilkin explained they decided to enter him in post secondary education.
“My son now lives on his own. Not all individuals will be able to do that or will want to do that. We can help families have those discussions, help facilitate it, help figure out what’s best with them. And help them figure out what this means if they obtain any kind of public assistance,” said Wilkin.
The CCE program was first certified in July and had been planned to start fall semester. Due to the current pandemic, the program was placed on hold. It is now planned and hoped to begin in the spring.
“We’d really like not to delay any further,” said Wilkin. “To start the program, we thought it was in everybody’s best interest to centralize it, because we are talking so many counties, and we are just starting the program. We don’t know what the numbers will be like at the start, where the transportation issues will be, and we had to consider COVID. If in the future the program grows and we can expand it to other campuses, that would be awesome.”
While the program is centralized by being held at the main campus in Hillsboro, access to the program is not being limited by location; however, with being a rural area and potential students being spread out, one of the biggest obstacles is transportation. Some families have shown an interest in a hybrid-virtual setting, although in-person is preferred. Currently, SSCC is operating courses under a hybrid-virtual format due to the pandemic.
Another obstacle is the fact that there are various geographical locations (and therefore communities) students may come from. Due to this obstacle, outreach is being done in multiple communities. Employers and community support from all over Ohio are being requested.
“We are not a large university setting, we will be looking for ways to help them engage in their community and not feel so isolated. If possible, find avenues for these students to be able to give back,” said Wilkin. “We need to have a good relationship with all local DDs, not just Hillsboro. Because we are not a residential campus, we will need to rely on the spirit of our communities. Those who are looking to give back could do mentoring. We are open to hearing from people who are looking to help the students in that way — community engagement and interaction.”
Wilkin further explained this program can help educate employers on potential employees with intellectual disabilities, and correct stereotypes. An example is that some with disabilities are fully capable of and want to work full-time hours, yet are not given those hours. One statistic Wilkin offered is that those with intellectual disabilities often miss less work than traditional employees.
Those interested in assisting with the program in their local area are asked to contact Wilkin by email at email@example.com or by phone at 800-628-7722, extension 2785.
“This will be a program in one of the smallest rural areas,” said Wilkin. “We have our work cut out for us.”
Access to post secondary education for those with intellectual disabilities is relatively new itself.
According to Wilkin, the federal government passed an amendment to The Higher Education Act in 2008. This amendment allowed individuals with intellectual disabilities to gain access to post secondary education.
Prior to that, those who did not meet all criteria could not gain access to higher education. Although high functioning individuals who could pass the ACT or other testing could get in, Wilkin explained college could be difficult without extra support. Individuals with mild to moderate disabilities who couldn’t get over testing hurdles were not able to enter programs.
The amendment, she said, “gave an alternative pathway.”
With the passage of the amendment came several benefits to help open that alternative pathway. One of those benefits is that financial aid can now be used for these programs.
Another benefit is the accommodations previously mentioned can now occur. Some who enter the programs then go on to degree-seeking, both associate (two-year) degrees and bachelor (four-year) degrees. As time passes, Wilkin explained the number of individuals seeking bachelor degrees has increased.
“We just don’t know where those individuals are going to take it,” said Wilkin. “That’s something we are excited to see — where it is going.”
Wilkin explained there are now over 300 programs nationwide with about 10 in Ohio. Some of these programs have been around for many years with Marietta College running a secondary program for about 14 years.
With the increase in numbers and quality of the programs, according to Wilkin, they are seeing higher rates of employment, hours able to be worked, and benefits to communities. Individuals with intellectual disabilities are being seen entering industries that have typically been difficult for them to get into. With the access to these industries opening up, some pay increases are being seen.
Furthermore, as employers become educated as well, hours and employment situations for those with disabilities have been improving.
“The opportunity is there; the race isn’t won yet. I think it is key to bring it into this area. With a son with an intellectual disability, when he was going out of high school we didn’t really know which way to go or where to turn. There is a need in a residential area like this to help individuals and family to find community engagement and an adult path,” she said.
The CCE program at SSCC has open enrollment, meaning applications can be submitted at anytime.
Although the applications can be submitted anytime, Wilkin expressed caution as there is a lot of work involved in preparing for the program prior to starting it. For instance, a meeting is held with individuals and their family to figure out what all is needed, if and what kind of modifications should be put in place, planning a pathway, etc.
Applications are available on the website or can be obtained by contacting Wilkin. More inf0rmation and a contact form can be found on the CCE webpage, www.sscc.edu/specialized/college-career-experience.shtml, on the SSCC website. Contact Wilkin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 800-628-7722, extension 2785 .
“It’s definitely not meant for every individual with intellectual disabilities, but it is an opportunity for those who want to do it and give it a try,” said Wilkin.
Reach journalist Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.