Next Steps at Vanderbilt takes huge leap forward, thanks to federal grant

Carrie DePauw, Will McMillan, and Matt Moore at Next Steps at Vanderbilt graduation ceremony. Photo by Joe Howell, Vanderbilt University.

The quality, impact, and reach of Next Steps at Vanderbilt will be expanded thanks to a 5-year, $1.93 million grant to Peabody College awarded by the Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education.

Vanderbilt was one of 25 colleges and universities nationally awarded funding as a Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID).

Other Tennessee recipients of TPSID awards were David Lipscomb University and the University of Memphis.

Next Steps at Vanderbilt is a 2-year certificate program for 18- to 26-year-old students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Vanderbilt Kennedy University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VKC UCEDD) established Next Steps in 2010.

“Next Steps has been successful in preparing its students for employment, promoting independence and self-advocacy, and providing an inclusive experience within Vanderbilt,” said Erik Carter, Ph.D., professor of Special Education, VKC UCEDD faculty member, and PI on the TPSID grant. “This award makes it possible to take Next Steps to the next level, permitting us not only to expand Next Steps in significant ways within Vanderbilt but also allowing us to promote growth of such programs in Tennessee.”

Over the next 5 years, Carter and colleagues at Peabody College and the VKC UCEDD will expand Next Steps into a 4-year program, will develop inclusive residential options, will increase access to the range of student experiences and supports, will strengthen its research focus, and will spur and support growth of new inclusive higher education programs in Tennessee.

“We’re proud that Next Steps was Tennessee’s first postsecondary education program for students with intellectual disabilities,” said Elise McMillan, J.D., VKC UCEDD co-director. “It has proven to be a model for more recent programs established at four other Tennessee colleges and universities. We’re grateful for the exceptional leadership that Next Steps staff have provided, most especially our Next Steps director Tammy Day.”

Tennessee’s needs are significant. Only 6% of graduates with intellectual disability, autism, or multiple disabilities are enrolled in higher education one year after leaving high school, compared to 48% of fellow graduates without disabilities. In a statewide study of 2,400 families, less than 10% of youth and young adults with intellectual disabilities had ever held a paid after-school, weekend, or summer job in the community. Only 19.5% of working-age Tennesseans with a cognitive disability are employed, compared to a national average of 23.4%.

“Postsecondary education for students with developmental disabilities is important preparation for employment, just as it is for students without disabilities,” Carter said. “We are well-positioned to lead change in Tennessee because of strong statewide collaborations already in place.”

Those collaborations include TennesseeWorks, a federally funded statewide employment systems change grant involving more than 40 state and community partners striving to improve post-high school options. Vanderbilt is represented on the Governor’s Employment First Task Force, which is charged with building capacity and commitment to strong employment pathways statewide. The VKC UCEDD is a leader of the Tennessee Alliance for Postsecondary Opportunities for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Finally, Carter is working with the Tennessee Department of Education to develop a new transition framework, manual, and training to equip educators statewide to better prepare students with intellectual disabilities for inclusive postsecondary education programs.

Jan Rosemergy, Ph.D., is VKC deputy director and director of Communications and Dissemination.

Pictured top of page: Carrie DePauw, Will McMillan, and Matt Moore at Next Steps at Vanderbilt graduation ceremony. Photo by Joe Howell, Vanderbilt University.

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