TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — CrossingPoints, a student transition program on The University of Alabama campus, is growing in both size and reach through a $2.5 million grant to help create a bridge to higher education for those with intellectual disabilities.
Dr. Kagendo Mutua, professor of severe and profound disabilities and transition in the department of special education and multiple abilities in UA’s College of Education, recently received the grant to enhance CrossingPoints.
CrossingPoints is a partnership among UA, the Tuscaloosa City, and Tuscaloosa County School Systems that helps students with significant disabilities develop skills necessary for successful adult functioning.
Over the next five years, CrossingPoints will increase its annual enrollment from 18-20 students to as many as 30, with an increased focus on developing skills for independent living and accessing post-secondary education.
The project will also launch the “Summer Bridge Program,” a new component that will provide college preparation to students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. This preparation ranges from guidance on how to complete financial aid paperwork to simulations of independent living.
“The open mindedness that’s been embraced across our campus will continue through this project,” Mutua said.
“This, hopefully, creates a different ethos on how we support students with disabilities in American institutions of higher education by including a population of disabled students who have traditionally been foreclosed from even dreaming of college, much less having options that are uniquely tailored to make their dreams of college a reality.
“We’re hoping to create individualized supports and programming, not just extended test times or any of the other essential student disability services.”
Mutua received the grant from the United States Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education. Funding was made available through the Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.
Mutua, project director, along with Amy Williamson, a CrossingPoints instructor who will serve as the projector coordinator, Dr. Jim Siders, administrative liaison, and Dr. John Myrick, faculty affiliate, in partnership with the Tuscaloosa City and County School Systems, will implement the grant.
“It’s truly redefines the face of higher education by introducing another kind of student to be included,” Mutua said. “When you look at higher education, we’ve embraced all kinds of diversity to race, gender, to class and disabilities, but we haven’t done anything with people with intellectual disabilities. That subpopulation of students with disabilities was incongruous to conversation about college.”
The increased funding will allow CrossingPoints to add four fully-funded graduate assistantships to its existing program, bringing the total to five. The program will also add undergraduate mentors, whose roles will be to help CrossingPoints students become a part of campus life.
The program will include a new life-skills component featuring an on-campus apartment. Tier 1 participants won’t live on campus, but they’ll rotate using the apartment to learn to cook meals and simulate independent living.
Tier 2, or the “Summer Bridge Program,” will accept 10 students from across the state each summer. Students will live in on-campus housing as part of their curriculum, which will include creating digital resumes, learning to live independently, and learning the steps necessary to begin college, like accessing an advise and registering for classes.
The “Summer Bridge Program,” which will begin in Summer 2016, is open to students 18 or older who have mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.
Myrick, UA clinical assistant professor of special education and CrossingPoints faculty affiliate, implemented the use of Bluetooth technology to coach students while they were at on-campus job internships. CrossingPoints will extend the coaching via wireless Skype or FaceTime technology, which would provide CrossingPoints Summer Bridge students with real-time advice on where to go and what to do, should they find themselves lost or unsure of how to handle a situation.
CrossingPoints, through the support of UA and the Tuscaloosa community, has an 80 percent employment rate, compared to 17 percent nationally for the same population, Mutua said.
“In 2003, two graduates of the inaugural class of CrossingPoints got employment on campus, and they’re still employed on campus to this day,” Mutua said. “With UA setting that precedence, the trailblazer message to the community and the state is that these are employable individuals who can become your employees for life, and they make a big impact on institutions and employers who are lucky enough to hire them.”
Anyone interested in additional information about this project can contact Mutua via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.