The beginning of August can bring stress for students heading to college in the fall. But for 24-year-old Jennifer (Jen) Anderman, the next few weeks are nothing short of exciting. Jen and her mom are doing everything they can to prepare her for a successful school year—which includes shopping for school supplies and packing all of Jen’s musical posters.
“The ones I can’t leave home without,” Jen laughed.
Starting this year, Regis University will offer the GLOBAL Inclusive College Certificate, a new program for students with intellectual disabilities, like Jen who has autism. The private university is the first Jesuit, faith-based institution to offer a program of this kind.
“It has been something that the administration has been wanting to do for a while,” said Dr. Jeanine Coleman, the program director for the GLOBAL Inclusive Program. “And one of the reasons is because there’s no other inclusive program like this at a Jesuit Catholic University.”
Now, bright individuals like Jen, who enjoys singing, performing, and musicals like “Hamilton” and “Mama Mia!,” will receive access to higher education and, according to her mom, Elizabeth, the opportunity to participate in the “crazy college” experience.
For Jen, this means the program will be catered to her with a focus on her strengths and passions, like singing and writing.
“She’s got a great voice,” Elizabeth added. “Jen plans to take writing and philosophy as part of the program. She’s hoping to add some music or choir class. She might also want to take communication classes or teaching training classes.”
In 2016, Colorado legislators passed Senate Bill 16-196 to establish inclusive higher education pilot programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities at three colleges across the state: the University of Northern Colorado, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Arapahoe Community College in Littleton. Each school received $75,000 per year for five years, and during the 2022 legislative session, existing funding for the pilot programs was expanded.
“We want to be a part of that consortium and really provide a lot of different programs within Denver County for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” explained Coleman. Instead of state funding, the GLOBAL Inclusive Program at Regis is supported by the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation and the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.
“The program is right now designed for two years…but really, that’s flexible,” Coleman explained. “It’s going to depend individually on that student because everyone has individual needs, and we really want to design the program that fits for them.”
Students complete 18 hours of coursework in one to two years depending on their abilities. They are paired with a peer mentor (or mentors)—trained undergraduate students—for support and assistance up to 10 hours each week. Because the focus is inclusivity, students enrolled in the GLOBAL Inclusive Program will attend classes with students without disabilities.
”There’s a lot of research that’s been done on the inclusion of having individuals with disabilities included in general education classrooms, and it really benefits both those kids with disabilities and those students without disabilities,” Coleman explained.
Unlike other programs, Coleman said, Regis plans to utilize the Universal Design for Learning framework, which designs courses, “based on the needs and interests and multiple learning experiences and thoughts from all of the students involved.”
While she has always done well in school—especially in English, choir, and drama—Jen struggled with kids in her class who didn’t follow the rules, according to her mom. Now, she will be able to focus on her studies and achieve her ultimate goal: to graduate.
“She is excited because she gets an opportunity she hasn’t had,” Elizabeth added.
Regis will be enrolling students in the program each semester. Learn more about the Global Inclusive Program at Regis University here.