(CNN) – Even as universities strive to become more inclusive places, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities still have often found the door to higher education closed to them.
But Texas A&M University has launched the state’s first inclusive, four-year postsecondary education program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
It is called Aggie ACHIEVE; and while it is not a degree program, it is also not just a taste of the college experience. Students will graduate with a certificate acknowledging their completion of the program, the university said.
“This is not meant to be a place to come get the college experience and then go back to what you were doing before. 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,” said Dr. Carly Gilson, assistant professor of special education.
The first cohort of the certificate program includes four students from within the state who will begin in the fall.
They will live on campus, participate in organizations, audit credit courses, attend seminars for careers and independent living and then participate in internships in their field of interest, the university said.
Parents, students, and faculty will tailor the program to each individual’s goals, the university said.
Members of the program will be paired with an “ACHIEVEmate,” a current student focused on helping include their peer in campus activities, the university said.
It’s a partnership that will not just benefit students in the ACHIEVE program, the university said.
Research indicates that sustained contact with a group of people is the best predictor of improved attitudes toward that group, the university said. Gilson hopes that, in working together, the general university population learns a little more about people different from them.