University of Kentucky HDI Leads Effort to Increase Higher Ed Access for Students With Intellectual, Developmental Disabilities

August 7, 2020

The University of Kentucky has a new opportunity to provide statewide leadership focused on increasing higher education access and success for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

During the 2020 legislative session, the Kentucky General Assembly included in UK's state budget allocation $500,000 for the Supported Higher Education Project (SHEP). These funds enable the establishment of the Statewide Technical Assistance Center at UK's Human Development Institute (HDI). The Statewide Technical Assistance Center will provide support to institutions of higher education in Kentucky to establish or enhance postsecondary programs that advance the academic success and inclusion of students with I/DD. The funds will support the participation of up to 20 students in partner institutions over the next year.

"HDI has a proven record of supporting colleges and universities in establishing comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs that serve students with I/DD," said Kathy Sheppard-Jones, executive director of the Human Development Institute. "Between 2010 and 2016, four programs served about 100 students in Kentucky, with two of those programs remaining active. While we have seen progress, there are still far too few students with I/DD who are enrolled in higher education programs, and there are barriers that must be addressed."

In Kentucky, only 17% of students with disabilities are enrolled at a college or university. For students with I/DD, that number is only 7%. A 2018 focus group found that the greatest barriers to students with I/DD enrolling in higher education were lack of funding, lack of knowledge, information, communication, and a lack of programs.

Sheppard-Jones said Kentucky's students deserve more.

HDI will work with colleges and universities and other partners to increase higher education opportunities and success for students with I/DD, whether enrolling students in these programs after they leave high school, or while they are still in high school through dual enrollment. HDI will provide customized support to both existing and prospective comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs and seek to strengthen collaboration and coordination across state systems.

In addition to the state funding, HDI is also applying for grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education focused on supporting programs for students with I/DD transitioning into higher education. These funds would further efforts to increase statewide capacity to improve higher education opportunities and services for students with I/DD and contribute to building an inclusive workforce in Kentucky.

"As the state's University Center for Excellence in Disabilities Education, Research, and Service, HDI is uniquely positioned to continue providing leadership in this critical area of need," Sheppard-Jones said. "HDI's demonstrated experience and strong partnerships across state and national networks serving individuals with disabilities will allow us to build on the good foundation of past work and to plan for even greater and more far reaching success."

The mission of the Human Development Institute at UK is to promote the inclusion, independence, and contributions of people with disabilities and their families throughout the lifespan through education, research and evaluation, information sharing, leadership, and advocacy across Kentucky and the nation.