Educational Opportunity for All

Photo: Students and Volunteers at Clemson Life

The journey from high school to college is typically filled with excitement for students. They’ll make new friends and have the opportunity to live independently.  They will mature socially and emotionally. The knowledge they gain is a pathway to career advancement. It’s a wonderful and life-changing opportunity.

At Phillips Charitable Foundation we are advocates for inclusive educational opportunities including at the higher education level. We recognize that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are left out of too many life experiences. Young adults with IDD have just as much to gain from a college experience as any other student. They have similar hopes and dreams as any other student. They want to have a job where they are productive and appreciated. They want friends. They want to be as independent as possible. A recent grant series focused on this goal.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 was a major milestone. The legislation made it possible for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to receive federal aid and grants and for universities to pilot inclusive programs. Over the next ten years the number of programs almost doubled and the number continues to increase today. It caught our attention!

A study by Think College, a national organization dedicated to developing, expanding, and improving inclusive higher education options for people with intellectual disability, showed that employment was a significant advantage of a college program for students with IDD.  According to their 2017–2018 report, 65% of students had a paid job within 90 days of graduation—a statistic in contrast with the 17 percent employment rate for adults with disabilities in the general population.

From the start, Phillips Charitable Foundation has focused on helping the most vulnerable of society. We’re thrilled to see college programs opening up across the country and having such a tremendous impact on those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families, and the wider community.  For one of our recent grant series, we chose three creative and impactful college programs.  Each has dedicated staff and volunteers who help prepare young men and women with IDD for competitive employment and independent living.  Each provides a college experience to students who, in the past, would have been left out. We’re pleased to announce that Texas A&M University, Clemson University, and St. Anthony’s school have been added to our growing family of grantees.

Texas A&M University

Phillips Charitable Foundation awarded $50,000 to the Texas A&M Aggie ACHIEVE Program. Aggie ACHIEVE is a four-year comprehensive transition program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have completed high school. Coursework, internship opportunities, and extracurricular activities are aligned with each student’s academic interests and employment goals. Aggie ACHIEVE began admitting students in 2019. It’s the first of its kind in Texas and is becoming a model program for other Texas Universities.

Photos: Aggie Achieve Students, Staff, and Volunteers

The Aggie ACHIEVE program includes a two-part curriculum. For the first two years, students attend seminars on independent living, career awareness and self-determination to introduce them to college life. They participate in a wide variety of courses. In their final two years, students participate in internships in their field of interest and focus on career development. Aggie ACHIEVE students graduate with a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas A&M University.

Dr. Carly Gilson, Faculty Director of Aggie ACHIEVE, says that the grant will be used primarily for scholarships. “Aggie ACHIEVE is thrilled about this incredibly generous opportunity from the Philips Charitable Foundation to grow our program and provide more life-changing experiences for our current and future students” explained Dr. Carly Gilson. “These scholarships will allow more students to access our program at Texas A&M University without the financial burden of paying for college. We are extremely grateful to have this avenue to expand our reach across the state of Texas and beyond.”

A student volunteer program was also started, called Achieve Mates. Students sign up to help one of the Aggie Achieve students in one of four different areas; academics, healthy living/exercise, nutrition, and social aspects. Each Aggie Achieve student has a minimum of four volunteers.  They establish relationships with Aggie ACHIEVE students to facilitate natural inclusion in the broader community. The number of volunteers continues to grow. That alone is a tremendous impact!

Photos: Courtesy of Clemson University

Clemson University
South Carolina

Clemson University was awarded $50,000 for the ClemsonLIFE Program. This program offers a collegiate experience that prepares young men and women with intellectual disabilities for competitive employment and independent living through a combination of academic coursework and career exploration.

The ClemsonLife program began 12 years ago.  We were especially impressed by their longer than average experience with this type of inclusive program.  Dr. Joe Ryan from Clemson University explained that they’ve intentionally kept the program small. He said that they admit only 12 students per year and that there’s always a waitlist.  “It’s not a program you can mass produce” he explained to us.  It requires significant support and staff to do well which they have clearly done.  It’s an exemplary program that we are proud to support.

ClemsonLife offers a two-year Basic Program that incorporates functional academics, independent living, employment, social/leisure skills, and health/wellness skills in a public university setting. The ClemsonLIFE Program also offers a two-year Advanced Program for students that have demonstrated the ability to safely live independently, sustain employment, and socially integrate during the Basic Program. The Advanced Program progresses with an emphasis on workplace experience, community integration, and independent living with transitionally reduced supports. Students who successfully complete the Basic or Advanced program will receive a corresponding certificate of post-secondary education.

Like the program at Texas A&M, ClemsonLIFE has a large base of student volunteers. In fact, it is the second-largest volunteer organization on campus. Volunteers serve as mentors and help ClemsonLIFE students work on specific personal goals. They also assist with social activities such as the bowling club, improving cooking skills, and much more. We were told that at last count they had about 550 student volunteers!

St. Anthony’s Charitable Foundation

St. Anthony’s is an inclusive educational environment for children ages 5-21 with Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or other Intellectual Disabilities. They also offer a unique Post-Secondary Program based at Duquesne University. We are thrilled to announce a $50,000 grant for this post-secondary program.

The St. Anthony’s Post-Secondary Program offers a higher education alternative for those who have completed four years of high school but have not yet received their diploma.

Photo: Welcome Day for St. Anthony's Post Secondary Students at Duquesne

Students in special education programs can remain in public school until the age of 21. Most students end up remaining in their high school program until they reach the maximum age of 21.  The Post-Secondary Program offered through St. Anthony’s was in response to the upper limits of inclusion but in a new and improved way.  Students can now leave high school like their peers and continue their education in a college setting. This is referred to as a “dual enrollment” program.

The St. Anthony’s students, ages 18-21, are provided with the unique opportunity of specialized education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The goal is for each student to become a productive, contributing member of their communities and their homes, at their highest level of independence.  Students are taught independent living and social skills. They also receive extensive vocational training. Internship opportunities are also offered.

“We are so grateful to Phillips Charitable Foundation for providing us with funds that are integral in providing our unique post-secondary program at Duquesne University” stated Lisa Hendrickson, Director of Post-Secondary at St. Anthony School. “This charitable gift will help us continue to implement a comprehensive college education tailored to our population’s needs including academics, vocational training, mobility training, independent living skills training at our apartment, and inclusion from countless work-study students and collaborations from different campus departments. The funds enable us to remain leaders in providing a college education and experience for students aged 18-21 with special needs.”  Photo Credit: Justin Hreha

St. Anthony’s recruits approximately 20 work-study students each year from Duquesne University. These students serve as peer mentors, friends, and job coaches. They also assist staff in taking students to off-campus sites and classes. They also eat lunch with the students at the student union. This is all part of making Duquesne University an inclusive educational environment.

We thank all of the staff and volunteers that make programs like these possible.  The transition process from childhood to adulthood is challenging for most individuals but can be especially difficult for those with IDD. We’re excited to see new opportunities and are thrilled to support three of those amazing and impactful programs.

This is Part 3 of a series of articles we're posting about our 2021 Fall Grant Series.

Part 1: Helping Students Stay in College

Part 2: Helping the Most Vulnerable Live Their Best Lives

Part 4: Honoring Our Veterans and First Responders


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