College of Education launches new program for students with intellectual disabilities

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A door to a new educational option has been opened for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities as a result of a recent $100,000 grant awarded to Lipscomb University’s College of Education (COE) from the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities.

education 08.28.2012This summer, the College of Education will launch IDEAL (Igniting the Dream of Education and Access at Lipscomb), a program that will offer a two-year academic certificate experience to an initial cohort of up to six students with intellectual disabilities. Classes will begin January 2014. Lipscomb is the first Christian university in Tennessee to offer such a program.

“Lipscomb University has long been conscious of the need for academic programs geared toward students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities in Middle Tennessee,” said Candice McQueen, dean of the College of Education. “The College of Education have professors in this arena who are passionate about serving individuals with intellectual disabilities in an academic setting. The IDEAL program will provide participants with a nurturing environment, a comforting structure, and the one-on-one attention they need to improve their social skills and develop positive work habits.”

The IDEAL program is an opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities to attend college. To be eligible for the program, students must have completed a secondary education program and received a secondary school certificate or special diploma.

“Often students with intellectual disabilities can’t go to college because they aren’t able to complete the requirements for a high school diploma or take the ACT and SAT (standardized tests required for college admission),” said Misty Vetter Ballew, faculty advisor to the program and a program director in the Master of Education program. “However, it is the dream of many of these students to go to college. This new program is a way they can achieve that dream and be a part of the college experience.”

The program is designed based on the Think College standards for inclusive postsecondary education. The program will include academic and skill-building classes, exercise sessions, daily internships, leisure time, and a daily study period.

Students will enroll in two traditional university classes per semester based on their interests and career goals, such as art, theater, music, science, computers, nutrition, health, education, early childhood studies or Bible. The IDEAL program director will work with university faculty to determine which classes meet students’ interests and will create individual learning plans that will identify any necessary accommodations to the course material.

IDEAL students will be paired with traditional Lipscomb students, who will serve as “peer buddies.”

“Peer buddies will be essential to the success of the program,” said Ballew. “Peer buddies will hang out with the IDEAL students, eating with them, attending chapel with them, working out in the gym with them among other college life activities. They will help them study and organize their course materials. Volunteers will be matched based on their desired areas to help and their class schedules.”

Ballew said the ultimate goal of the IDEAL program is for students in the program to graduate with improved independent social, communication, and vocational skills and to be prepared to work in a job setting.

“We want our students to leave the program prepared to live and work independently and to have better employment options,” said Ballew.

As part of the program, students will hold an on-campus internship that may include a variety of tasks including clerical work or any job allowing the students to practice vocational skills matching their career goals. Students will be placed in off-campus internships in their second year of the program.

“The goal is to scaffold necessary skills so the student is always learning and practicing skills that will benefit them in their future job placement,” said Ballew. “Students will have at least four work experiences to place on their resume when leaving the program”

Tuition is $15,000 per year. In addition, students will pay for meal plans and any applicable student fees. Students who are interested in applying for the program will complete an assessment to determine if they meet eligibility requirements. Students will be eligible if they are diagnosed with an intellectual disability, did not receive a general high school diploma, and are between the ages of 18 to 26, among other criteria.

Ballew said she believes the Lipscomb community is a perfect place for this new program.

“Because of its caring nature, I believe the Lipscomb community will quickly embrace these students. This fits so well with the university mission. People in the Nashville community are excited about the program being at Lipscomb,” said Ballew.

She said the Lipscomb campus is also a good fit for the program because it is “safe, easy to navigate and small compared to large university campuses.”

Ballew said organizers hope to expand the program in the future to accept 10 students each year and to offer an on-campus housing option.

For more information, contact Ballew at