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Path to Independence students prepare for success on campus and beyond

The program's nine students, through mentoring, support and high expectations, gain needed confidence and skills for life beyond the University

Path to Independence (P2I) is an inclusive two-year postsecondary education certificate program for students with intellectual disabilities (ID). It is housed in the Nevada Center for Excellence (NCED) in the College of Education.  P2I is a collaboration of the NCED and Extended Studies, which issues the certificate.  P2I aligns with the mission of the University, which recognizes and embraces the critical importance of diversity in preparing students for global citizenship and is committed to a culture of excellence, inclusion, and accessibility.

P2I is a college program for students with ID who have not attained a standard high school diploma, so would not be eligible for admission to the University in the traditional manner.  There are three components to P2I: Academic and social activities, independent living, and employment.  It is designed to provide a well-rounded college experience that will produce an outcome of integrated, competitive employment and the ability to live independently.   P2I started in 2013 as the first college program for students with ID in Nevada.  It is modeled after evidence-based practices from programs around the country in coordination with Think College, the National Coordinating Center for Postsecondary Education Programs for Students with ID.  

Individuals with IDD have the highest rate of unemployment and underemployment in the United States (ODEP, 2012). The latest data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, 2015) reports that individuals with disabilities are employed at rates nearly half that of individuals without disabilities. In addition, for individuals with IDD employment outcomes are some of the lowest reported, even when compared to other individuals with disabilities (Migliore & Butterworth, 2008; Siperstein, Parker, & Drascher, 2013). As noted in the report to the President, the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (PCPID, 2016): "People with IDD have one of the lowest rates of participation in the workforce of any subgroup in the country, if not the lowest. Their rate is far lower than any group of color and lower than almost all subgroups of people with disabilities. As summarized by the Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities in their Interim Report (2015), youth with ID are less likely than their peers to graduate from high school, less likely to pursue postsecondary education, more likely to participate in sheltered-workshops and significantly more likely to be unemployed for much or all of their adult lives."

In the state of Nevada, employment rates for individuals with IDD are very similar to the national data. As a result, the majority of Nevadans with IDD are destined to a life of poverty, making subminimum wage in sheltered workshops. In fact, Nevada has ranked 51st among states (and the District of Columbia) in two separate categories: total fiscal effort on behalf of people with IDD and community fiscal effort on behalf of people with IDD for the past 20+ years (State of the State in Developmental Disabilities, 2015).  

P2I is integral in supporting people with IDD to lead more productive lives.  Research from the Rehabilitation Services Administration found that people with ID who participated in postsecondary education programs for people with ID were 27 percent more likely to find competitive employment and earned 73 percent more in weekly wages than those who did not participate.   

P2I students and their families participate in person-centered planning (PCP) before starting the program and each semester. It concentrates on five areas: Academic Enrichment, Independent Living, Self-Determination, Campus & Community Engagement, and Career Development & Employment.   

P2I's three components provide a well-rounded college experience. 


·         Academic & Social:  P2I students attend college classes accompanied by educational coaches who help with note taking and class interaction.  Class choice is based on each student's PCP.  P2I students are also assigned a mentor, who is a student minoring in Developmental Disabilities.  Mentors help with social activities, including working out, attending sporting events and movies, and joining campus clubs.  Mentors and other volunteers also provide homework help and reading assistance at daily study sessions. Mentors and educational coaches also model and teach life skills in natural environments.

·         Independent Living: P2I Students attend one independent living class per semester, which focuses on life skills needed to live independently.  Classes include: Money Matters, Practical Uses of Money; Steps to Self-Determination; Relationships & Sexuality; and Independent Living 101: Making Your Mark.  Students are encouraged to become clients of Sierra Regional Center and to request Supported Living Arrangements (SLA) services.  Currently, two P2I students live together in off-campus housing with SLA services. 

·         Employment:  The expected outcome of the P2I program is integrated, competitive employment for each graduate.  This is emphasized when students apply to become P2I students.

University classes and other activities support the exploration of employment opportunities.  Internships are sought on campus in areas of employment interest for each student.  All second-year students work on campus as paid student employees.  Some of these job sites are at the Joe Crowley Student Union and include: Information Desk, Wolf Shop retail store (front of the house and back of the house), Programming Department, Operations, Marketing and the Food Court.  All P2I students become clients of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and meet on a weekly basis with P2I staff. 

In addition to checking in about classes, P2I students review soft life skills for employment, explore job opportunities, and develop resumes, portfolios, and employment videos.  A job developer from the Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living (NNCIL) arranges job interviews and placements for P2I students.   P2I has been enriched by collaborations to provide funding and expertise. 

These include:

·         Sierra Regional Center (SRC):  SRC provides funding to pay for our students' (who are SRC clients) educational coaches. These educational coaches are UNR student workers.  They assist with note-taking, social interaction, and instructor communication.  P2I recently became certified as a Jobs & Day Training (JDT) provider, which funds this effort.

·         Vocational Rehabilitation (VR):  The Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities (NCED) is a customized employment vendor with VR and is reimbursed for certain employment-related activities. 

·         Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living (NNCIL): NNCIL is our partner in customized employment and provides a job developer for placement services at the end of the two year program;

·         Corporation for National & Community Service: CNCS has funded one VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) member to work on sustainability and development for P2I.  Another VISTA member (as part of the NCED grant) is working to develop and sustain the postsecondary education program at UNLV.

·         University Departments:

Developmental Disabilities Minor program students earn three hours of independent study credits for being mentors to the P2I students.  Students from many majors, including Speech Pathology, Human Development/Family Studies, Social Work, Education, Political Science, Community Health Sciences and many more, get to know students with ID and have reported how great the experience was for them.

Joe Crowley Student Union provides paying student jobs for all second year P2I students.

Office of Service Learning & Student Engagement provides volunteers to staff the daily study sessions.

Several other departments provide interns for P2I.  

P2I currently has nine students.  The most significant impact of the program has been the effect P2I has had on each of the students.  Many of the P2I students did not have a good educational experience in elementary, and especially, high school.  Many came to P2I quite withdrawn and timid.  Through mentoring, support and high expectations, P2I students gain the confidence they need to be successful at the University and beyond. 

University instructors who have taught P2I students have noted that having them in the classroom has been enriching for themselves and the typical students.  Many educational coaches and mentors have said how much they have learned and enjoyed their time mentoring and making friends with the P2I students.   

P2I students have a two-year college experience and learn about the community resources available to them throughout their lives. They leave the program with the life skills necessary to live independent lives and to work in competitive, integrated employment.  The university community is richer for having a college program for students with ID.   

For more information, contact Mary Bryant at mhbryant@unr.edu or 775-682-9057.                  

Mary Bryant head shot

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