College introduces program for mentally disabled

The “HOT” College is now further expanding its admissions beyond the normal bevy of freshmen. Starting next year, mentally challenged students will also study here under the Career and Community Studies program (CCS).

The program strives to demonstrate that students with intellectual disabilities can learn and excel in the world of post-secondary education. It will also provide them with social and vocational opportunities.

Mercer County Community College (MCCC) will work with the College on the project, which hopes to become a model for schools across the nation. The two were chosen from other public colleges and universities in New Jersey.

“We are very pleased to be part of this partnership with (MCCC) in developing a model program for helping enhance the academic and social skills of individuals with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities,” College president R. Barbara Gitenstein said in a press release from the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) Web site.

Next fall, both colleges will admit six to eight students, who will complete either a two- or four-year course of study by either regularly attending or auditing classes.

Criteria for admission states that a student must be a New Jersey resident between ages 18 and 25 and have Down syndrome, mental retardation or another form of mental disability, as well as a strong desire to study in a college atmosphere.

The students will complete 56 CCS credits and another 24 credits made up of electives and independent studies. These classes will include a freshman seminar, personal finance, community resources and two internships.

At the end of the program, students must create a portfolio that represents the education they have received, at the completion of which they will receive a certificate.

The College and MCCC will each receive $50,000 per year for the next three years for the program, as part of a donation from NDSS and New Jersey residents Steve and Laura Riggio. Steve Riggio is the CEO of Barnes and Noble. Laura, his 17-year-old daughter, has Down syndrome.

“With the documented success of inclusion in elementary and secondary education, it is now time to advance into the frontier of postsecondary education,” Steve Riggio said in the same press release.

“Both of the institutions selected to receive grants embrace our belief that people with intellectual disabilities deserve the opportunity to enrich their lives through higher education,” he said.

Besides completing an academic agenda, the hope is for these students to take advantage of the College’s busy social scene by joining clubs and organizations which will prepare them for community life and employment after the completion of the CCS program.

According to NDSS, programs like this improve self-esteem and independence of students with disabilities and improve social networking skills.

To aid the possibly difficult transition, a group of students have created the “More than Mentors” program to go along with CCS. Rebecca Daley, special education professor, will be the advisor.

These mentors can be either academic or social and the program is open to anyone who wishes to complete community service and possibly make a new friend.

“We call it ‘More than Mentors’ in the hopes that friendships are formed that last well into the future,” Megan Baglivio, senior special education major, said. “Creating and maintaining that important social aspect is one of our main goals as the student representatives of the advisory council.”

Due in part to education legislation like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the College is part of a growing wave of almost 100 colleges and universities that are opening their doors to students with intellectual disabilities.

“Every senior in high school has the opportunity to go to college,” Baglivio said. “Students with disabilities have not had that opportunity before this program and now, people with intellectual disabilities are afforded the same opportunities as everyone else.”

– Information from and