UI named a top university for special needs


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The University of Iowa is improving its assistance for students with special needs.

The UI was recently ranked as one of the top universities in the nation for special-needs students.

The rating comes after the UI's Realizing Education and Career Hopes program last year received a five-year grant for approximately $2.5 million from the Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education to improve, expand, and assess the program.

Program coordinator Jo Hendrickson said the grant has helped with the program's curriculum to expand options for students with special needs.

It has also helped fund the expansion of staff in the past year that are responsible for assisting students in student life, transition, and academics.

The program serves 41 students.

Participants of the program help students with disabilities receive an array of opportunities in the residence halls, on campus, and in the community. They learn how to manage their time and money and to solve problems constructively.

"This program provides all the richness of big-campus life while doing so through a well-structured and highly supportive living and learning community designed to help these students succeed," said Dean of Education Margaret Crocco.

Because flagship institutions offer program like the UI's, students with special needs have access to the same opportunities as others.

Although it is a two-year certificate program, it follows students for a minimum of two years after graduation with the intent of improving their transition to independent living, Hendrickson said.

Christina Laun, a writer for bestcollegesonline.com — which ranked the UI — said the extensive program among big schools is rare. Most colleges, she said, don't have much more than a disability resource center to help students on campus and only smaller, regional universities offer such programs.

"I don't think there are more than a handful of schools nationwide that offer similar programs, which is a real shame," she said.

David Morrissey, the executive director of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities, said there are both physical and attitudinal barriers that need to be torn down for campuses with special-needs students. But by being an advocate for students with disabilities like those in the UI program, this will help them and will benefit the university, he said.

"My interactions with leadership here at the university have really been stellar in that they've fully understood what we're about, where we're trying to go, and they've been just as I like to see leaders," Morrissey said. "They're solution finders not reacting to program visions, but rather [asking], 'OK, we're going to have some challenges here, how do we solve them?' and so that again also moves advocacy forward by being solution-finders to them."

Hendrickson said she thinks it is fantastic the university is being recognized for its leadership.

"The academic life, student life, and career development and transition opportunities that students receive are top quality and we strive to improve continuously," she said.

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