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Monday, November 8, 2010

Faith-Based Postsecondary Education

Christianity Today reports:

Russ Kinkade holds up a pen. If it were broken, he says, he would toss it. "So if you objectify people and see they are broken, then it makes logical sense that you would discard them," concludes Kinkade, executive vice president of Shepherds Ministries.

Located south of Milwaukee, the nonprofit Christian organization has 53 years of experience in overcoming the perception that people with disabilities have little to contribute to society and thus can be discarded.

In 2008, the ministry launched Shepherds College, the nation's first faith-based residential college exclusively for students with intellectual disabilities. At the end of the current academic year, Shepherds, a three-year program, will graduate its first class.

Intellectual disabilities include autism, Down syndrome, brain injury, or other developmental complications. Students at Shepherds have mild to moderate disabilities and are typically at a third-grade or higher academic level. In the U.S., about seven million people have an intellectual disability, affecting about one in ten families.


Debra Hart, educational coordinator at the Institute for Community Inclusion, a Boston-based nonprofit, says for the past 35 years, students with disabilities have grown up as members of their communities. Like their peers, they dream of going to college, getting a job, and living on their own. But, as Hart wrote in a 2006 report, "Of all students with disabilities, those with intellectual disabilities have the poorest post-school outcomes."


Shepherds employs 12 teachers and 8 staff, some of whom were trained by Gary Meers, who teaches career planning for people with disabilities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Department of Special Education. Although studies have yet to determine which type of program is most effective, Meers likes the amount of independence Shepherds College provides, in that "students identify for themselves what works."

Congress recently approved $11 million toward a grant for postsecondary education programs for intellectually disabled students. Unemployment is high among adults with disabilities. In 2009, 19 percent of all adults with any kind of disability earned a paycheck, compared with 64.5 percent of Americans without a disability. Various national studies show that graduates of postsecondary education programs have higher employment rates and earn higher incomes, Hart says.