College of Education to offer new program for students with disabilities

Jessica Buterbaugh
August 08, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — During the past 25 years, education for students with intellectual disabilities (ID) has seen great improvements in the K-12 setting. However, higher education and postsecondary opportunities still lack for these students.

"Because of changing policies on inclusion, today's students — with and without disabilities — have been learning together since their early educational experiences. However, with limited postsecondary options for students with ID, this changes once they graduate high school and these students are left behind," said Allison Fleming, assistant professor of education (rehabilitation and human services).

Fleming, along with colleague Wendy Coduti, plan to change that with a new post-secondary program designed specifically for students with ID.

WorkLink, which is currently under development, will provide academic and career preparation experiences for students and will emphasize self-determination, advocacy, independent living and social inclusion on Penn State's University Park campus.

"College is more than what is learned in classes," Fleming said. "It is also a time for unparalleled personal growth and a chance to foster lifelong friendships. With WorkLink, students with ID will have the chance to join the Penn State UP family and benefit from all that the campus has to offer."

"The WorkLink program will assist individuals with ID who have been traditionally neglected by higher education participate in postsecondary experiences and education alongside their peers," said Coduti, an assistant professor education (rehabilitation and human services) in the College of Education.

WorkLink has been a goal that Coduti has been working on since 2015 with D.R.E.A.M., a nonprofit organization that was formed by parents in the central Pennsylvania region to increase opportunities for students with ID to attend college. This summer, the organization awarded Coduti and Fleming $45,000 to fund the program for its pilot year. Once the program is developed, the researchers will apply for additional funding for the project's subsequent two years.

"The first year — the 2018-19 academic year — will focus on planning and development," Coduti said. "We will be working with Penn State UP stakeholders, state agencies, community partners and D.R.E.A.M to develop the full WorkLink program."

The program will accept its first cohort of approximately three students in 2019. In 2020, the final year of the grant, Coduti hopes to enroll as many as six students. By May 2021, the first cohort would be eligible for graduation.

"Individuals with ID are at a high risk for unemployment, reduced opportunities for social integration and independent living skill building when compared to other groups," Coduti said. "WorkLink will address these issues by preparing students with ID to obtain and retain employment, and participate in their communities as working citizens."

Coduti and Fleming also plan to work collaboratively with LifeLink PSU, a partnership between the Penn State College of Education and the State College Area School District that allows students with ID to attend college classes while also teaching them independent living skills. WorkLink will build upon these opportunities and expand Penn State's commitment to creating inclusive learning opportunities for people with disabilities.

"LifeLink PSU has a long history of successful programming for students with ID here on campus and we have a lot to learn from them, " Fleming said.

The program also will include an evaluation component, Coduti said, to build evidence-based support for program improvement and continuation.

Although grant funding currently exists only for three years, Coduti and Fleming hope to continue WorkLink beyond the initial three-year grant phase and make the program self-sufficient.

"We are looking for opportunities for donors to help with student scholarships and program sustainability," Coduti said. "We also plan to connect with Penn State alumni who are interested in working with us to offer work experiences, such as internships and jobs after graduation from the WorkLink program."

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 10, 2018