By: Elizabeth Turner
Students and graduates with intellectual disabilities enrolled in Next Steps at Vanderbilt played an active role in the successful passage of Tennessee STEP UP Scholarship legislation. The legislation expands the Tennessee Lottery Scholarship to include students entering eligible postsecondary education programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Tennessee.
In addition to efforts by disability organizations like The Arc Tennessee and the Tennessee Disability Coalition, Next Steps at Vanderbilt students wrote to and met with their legislators, and testified in front of the House Education committee to share how participation in a postsecondary education program has improved their quality of life and job prospects.
“Going to college taught me how to be more independent,” said Next Steps graduate (2013) Will McMillan. “I now want to live on my own and college helped make that possible. I’m more social now because I know a lot of different people. I really liked my classes and learned different things. I’ve learned so much about myself that I didn’t already know: like the challenges I’ll face. By being in college, I got to have internships. I’ve worked with the sports and athletics and two different libraries. All of my internships I liked and I now know what I want from a job.”
Starting in the 2013-2014 academic year, STEP UP scholarship recipients will receive $4,000 per year for a maximum of two years. To be eligible, a student must be a Tennessee resident, graduate high school in his or her own Individual Education Program, and be admitted to and enroll in an eligible postsecondary institution no later than 16 months after graduation.
Eligible Tennessee postsecondary education programs are located at Vanderbilt University (Next Steps at Vanderbilt), University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UT Future), University of Memphis (TigerLIFE )-and starting in January-at David Lipscomb University. These programs open exciting doors for students who traditionally have had to sit back and watch as siblings and friends go on to college to explore interests, make friends, and gain the skills and knowledge they need to secure meaningful employment.
Graduates of these programs have secured paid employment at or above minimum wage or internships that will lead to paid employment.
Governor Haslam signed the bill into law on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Next Steps student Haley Kellar was in attendance at the signing. UT Memphis TigerLIFE student Samuel Bryant was also in attendance. Representative Bob Ramsey and Senator Doug Overbey co-sponsored the STEP UP legislation.
“The importance of the STEP UP legislation is that it puts Tennessee students with intellectual disabilities on a par with their neighbors and colleagues,” said Cynthia Cyrus, Ph.D., Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education. “The academic experience, job readiness, and social skills that are integral to the Next Steps program (and its sister programs at Knoxville, Memphis and Lipscomb) make a profound difference in the life of the participants. Funding from the Lottery scholarships will broaden access to these programs for those Tennessee individuals who stand to benefit the most.”
Also advocating prominently for STEP UP were the Tennessee Alliance for Postsecondary Education and TennesseeWorks, a project funded by the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Both groups have provided education and information about the importance of postsecondary education for students looking for future employment.
Last Updated: 6/6/2013 1:59:03 PM
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