UMass Boston Earns Tower Foundation Grant to Study College Outcomes for Youth with Intellectual Disabilities, Autism

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Innovative Think College Approach Will Be Used in Inclusive College Classes at UMass Boston, Roxbury Community College

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“The University of Massachusetts Boston is honored to partner with the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation to broaden access to higher education for students with intellectual disabilities and autism.”

The University of Massachusetts Boston, home of the nation’s leading authority on inclusive higher education, has received a $270,000 grant from The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation to study an innovative approach to improving academic achievement and career outcomes for young people with intellectual disabilities and autism.

The grant will allow researchers to test a new model designed by Think College, a national organization based at UMass Boston’s Institute for Community Inclusion. The pioneering Think College Transition Model will place Boston Public Schools students ages 18-22 in inclusive college classes at UMass Boston and Roxbury Community College. The model also calls for students to participate in internships and employment as they finish high school.

Earlier this year, Think College was awarded a $2.375 million Investing in Innovation Fund grant from the U.S. Department of Education, one of only 18 in the nation. The Tower Foundation award provides matching funds for this federal grant.

“The University of Massachusetts Boston is honored to partner with the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation to broaden access to higher education for students with intellectual disabilities and autism,” said Chancellor J. Keith Motley. “This philanthropic investment recognizes our shared commitment to enable persons with disabilities to have opportunities for full participation in higher education and employment.”

The study will help researchers measure the impact of the Think College model on students’ academic achievement, employment outcomes, and self-determination skills. Findings from the study will guide future policies and practices regarding equal access to higher education and employment in Massachusetts, and provide a basis for nationwide use of the model.

“The Tower Foundation is pleased to support UMass Boston’s Think College Transition Model for students with intellectual disabilities and autism,” said Tracy Sawicki, the foundation’s executive director. “We’re greatly impressed by Think College’s expertise on inclusive higher education for persons with intellectual disabilities, and the project’s promise of brighter futures for the study participants, and other young people like them in Massachusetts and across the country.”

The grant marks the first public-private partnership between the university’s Institute for Community Inclusion, a leading international research and policy center housed at the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, and the Tower Foundation.

Programs like the Think College Transition Model, which create inclusive academic and social experiences in a college setting with same-aged peers, offer an alternative to typical high school environments, in which students with intellectual disabilities and autism often receive transition services. Early indicators show that dual or concurrent enrollment experiences have potential to position students for greater educational and career achievement. The TCT model will provide an evidence base for practitioners in the field, policymakers, and other stakeholders.

School for Global Inclusion and Social Development William Kiernan, who also serves as director of the Institute for Community Inclusion, says the grant will serve as a catalyst to improve the quality of life for this population.

“We’re very grateful to the Tower Foundation for their support, and excited by the opportunity of this new philanthropic partnership,” Kiernan said. “Expanding inclusive educational and employment opportunities for these young adults is the ultimate goal. By bringing philanthropic and federal resources together on the project, we have greater capacity to accelerate the system changes needed to get there.”

About UMass Boston
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research addressing complex issues, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve more than 16,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit http://www.umb.edu.

About The Tower Foundation
The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation supports community programming that helps children, adolescents, and young adults affected by substance abuse, learning disabilities, mental illness, and intellectual disabilities achieve their full potential. Through its intellectual disabilities focus area, it advances the goal of engaging young people with intellectual disabilities in meaningful social, vocational, and educational pursuits.

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