New Jersey colleges and universities — big and small — are doing their part in making sure more young adults with developmental disorders get their shot at a successful postsecondary education.

According to the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, 11 percent of undergraduate students in the 2011-12 academic year reported having a disability.

In the past, higher education may not have been a realistic option for those dealing with intellectual disorders or autism. But over the past 10 years or so, a handful of New Jersey institutions have implemented programs aimed at leading these students in the next step of their education and towards a career.

A first-of-its-kind program for a four-year school, COMPASS launched at the Metropolitan campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2008, devoted to students with high-functioning autism. The program began operating at the Madison campus this academic year as well.

Dr. Kathleen Viezel, COMPASS director, said the two-year program helps students transition from high school to college with an ultimate goal of independent functioning. Participants receive academic coaching, group counseling and individual counseling on a weekly basis.

Viezel noted COMPASS students are individuals with average to above-average intelligence but may have a deficit in the area of social skills, anxiety and organization.

"These are students who are college-ready," she said. "They've gotten into FDU on their own academic merit."

Viezel said the prevalence rate of autism "has increased a lot over the past several decades," but with that, we're seeing more autistic students for whom a college education is a reasonable goal.

Turning Point Program students in the 2015-16 academic year. (Photo provided by BCC)

Just 15 spots per year are available for Bergen Community College's Turning Point Program, which provides opportunities for intellectually-disabled students who may not have otherwise been able to enroll in a traditional college program.

"It's a two-year certificate program," said college spokesman Larry Hlavenka. "They go through classes, they build their vocational skills. Obviously there's an element of trying to support the students socially and emotionally."

Turning Point is a non-degree service, but Hlavenka said students have advanced from the program into credited courses or a job.

Both FDU and BCC offer their programs at a cost of about $6,000 per year.

 

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