Many students with intellectual disabilities never make it to college. However, the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency is trying to change this issue. This year, Georgia Tech introduced its EXCEL (Expanding Career, Education and Leadership Opportunities) four-year program. In its first year, this program had seven students with intellectual disabilities, who have birth defects or traumatic brain injuries. These students received certificates of achievement in academics, social skills, leadership, and career development, instead of a typical diploma.
EXCEL’s acceptance rate is about 25% and is a four-year program, unlike many inclusive programs in Georgia which are one or two years long. It was founded by Terry Blum, former Dean of the Scheller College of Business, and Cyrus Aidun, founding director of Georgia Tech’s Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship. These students have been fully part of the Georgia Tech community, cheering for the Yellow Jackets at sports games, joining many clubs, and spending late nights studying in the library. They also take regular Georgia Tech courses such as psychology and business, in addition to special classes such as cooking and budgeting.
Programs, such as that at Georgia Tech, are becoming more common in Georgia colleges and universities. Kennesaw State started the first inclusive program in Georgia in 2009, with three students. This past year, there were 140 students with intellectual disabilities enrolled at nine Georgia colleges and universities, including at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University. This is a promising trend, as only 15% of individuals with intellectual disabilities are employed nationwide. However, 75% of the graduates of the Georgia campus programs are employed or continuing their educations. Susanna Miller-Raines, statewide coordinator for the Georgia Inclusive Post-secondary Education Consortium, commented: “I’m not sure of all the answers, but this is one answer.” To learn more about the EXCEL program at Georgia Tech, click here.