The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) works extensively with Community Colleges as engines of career training and core partners in workforce development systems in local communities.
Career Pathways are broad-based post-secondary workforce efforts that include education, support services, counseling, and job skills training that lead to employment or job advancement within state recognized in-demand occupations. Youth and young adults with disabilities can benefit from community college career pathway models that integrate academics and career services in order to enhance credential attainment and job placement and to increase wage earnings.
Pathways to Careers for Students with Disabilities
ODEP has funded two Community College demonstration model grants to develop innovative practices in recruitment, retention, and credential attainment for youth and young adults with disabilities.
The Universal Pathways to Employment Project (UPEP) at Pellissippi State Community College and Onondaga Pathways to Careers (OPC) at Onondaga Community College annually serve (during 2016 -2020) over 150 college students and facilitate the transition to college of another 75 high school seniors.
Pathways to Careers efforts implement strategies that have been shown to improve access and opportunity for youth with disabilities. The Community College demonstration models implement the following strategies:
- Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
UPEP and OPC provide professional development in UDL to staff and faculty in every academic department. Through UDL the community colleges have expanded access to the physical campus environment as well as enhanced classroom instruction.
- Supportive Programming
Supportive programing includes summer bridge programs for transitioning high school students and peer mentoring, academic and career coaching for college enrolled Pathways students. Both demonstration models provide individualized planning and promote institutional change to ensure accessibility and inclusion for students with disabilities.
- Career Exploration
Pathways students participate in career assessment, career planning and management to develop skills for the job search. Student activities connect students with each other and develop communication, soft skills and other strategies for success.
Additional supports are provided for interacting with employers (career fairs) and employer partnerships are focused on work-based learning. Work-based learning opportunities include job shadowing, informational interviews, site visits, internships, practicums and employment.
Improving Post-Secondary Outcomes for Youth with Disabilities
Both colleges share promising practices with community college network within their states. Onondaga Community College OPC partnered with the Burton Blatt Institute to conduct a community of practice among New York area colleges and has shared their approaches with the State University of New York Career Development Conference. Pellissippi Community College's UPEP project built capacity for accessibility and UDL in partnership with the Tennessee Board of Regents and has shared practices with other colleges in Tennessee.
ODEP shared approaches of the Pathways grants with government and workforce agencies through webinars for Federal Partners in Transition and the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium (RACC). Also, a final report and an issue brief have been published. The final report, Demonstration and Evaluation of Community College Interventions for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities, describes the Pathways to Careers effort through 2018. The issue brief, Building Accessible and Inclusive Community College Environments for Students with Disabilities, summarizes the early capacity building efforts at each college.
Student Success Stories
Preliminary data from UPEP and OPC have demonstrated improved grades, retention, persistence and graduation rates for youth and young adults with disabilities who participle in the project. The American Association of Community Colleges estimates that twenty percent of students in community colleges have disabilities with the majority having a learning disability. Data on area of disabilities for students in Pathways demonstration sites shows that both OPC and UPEP are serving higher percentages of students with significant disabilities including students who have a cognitive, intellectual disability or are on the autism spectrum.
The Pathway to Careers Student Success Stories demonstrate how the Community College demonstration models made a difference for individual students.