ICE program helps disabled achieve higher education

BOSTON (WWLP) – More young people with autism and intellectual disabilities could soon be enrolling in college. 22News found out about a pilot program that has tremendous success.

The new program brings people with autism and intellectual disabilities into more college classrooms.

Students with autism or intellectual disabilities ages 18 to 22 experience barriers between high school and adult life, limiting their access to a proper education. A pilot program called Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment, or “ICE,” allows students with disabilities to enroll in classes at public universities while still in high school.

Rep. Tom Sannicandro of the Committee on Higher Education said, “These students are leaving becoming much more self-sufficient than students who were not given this opportunity, so potentially there’s a huge cost savings as we move ahead.”

This year, 75 students with autism or intellectual disabilities participated in the program, but that’s only a small fraction of the nearly 4,000 students with disabilities in the state.

Julia Landau from Mass. Advocates for Children said, “There is a tremendous benefit for the entire campus and college community that the participation of this population of citizens who have been historically excluded improved education for the non-disabled students as well.”

When the program began in 2006, it received $2 million state dollars. Now, lawmakers hope to restore those funds to at least $1.5 million as the House debates the budget for fiscal 2015.

There are nine universities that participate in the “ICE” program, three in western Massachusetts – Holyoke Community College, Westfield State University and UMass Amherst. Lawmakers hope to expand the program to the 29 public universities statewide because once a student with disabilities turns 22, they are no longer able to enroll.

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