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New University Program Provides Inclusive College Experiences for Students With Disabilities

Saint Joseph’s Pathways to Authentic College Experiences (PACE) program, the first of its kind at a Jesuit institution, aims to provide an authentic and inclusive college experience for students with intellectual disabilities.

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Published: July 6, 2022

Total reading time: 3 minutes

Saint Joseph’s University, with the support from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education, has expanded its support services for students with disabilities through the Pathways to Authentic College Experiences (PACE) program. PACE is a new option for students with intellectual disabilities that offers a four-year Integrated Professional Studies certificate, while preparing students for future employment opportunities and maximizing their personal growth.

Students with intellectual disabilities may have challenges in intellectual and adaptive functioning, however, inclusive higher education programs, like PACE, provide individualized support to help students succeed in a college environment and beyond.

“The students participating in this program will be able to receive the full Saint Joseph’s University experience, from a vibrant campus life to practical coursework, work-based learning experiences and internships,” says Cheryl George, PhD, associate professor and chair of the special education department, and PACE project director.

Studies show that students with intellectual disabilities who complete inclusive college programs are significantly more likely to find employment opportunities and pursue further education. Saint Joseph’s program will focus on providing enrolled students an authentic and inclusive college experience through a combination of components including engaging academic coursework, social engagement, supervised employment opportunities and optional independent living.

The certificate’s academic curriculum combines a mix of GEP courses and courses in the student’s area of interest, while also preparing students for paid employment within one year of graduation. While PACE is housed in the School of Education and Human Development, students can take courses from any of the University’s four schools and colleges.

Students will be supported by a variety of members of the University community, including the faculty and staff who comprise the PACE team. Students will also receive mentorship from trained SJU peers in the areas of academics, social engagement and employment. They’ll also have access to all other University campus support such as the Office of Learning Resources, Career Development and the Writing Center.

“We want students who complete the program to feel empowered and confident after spending time with our faculty and campus community,” George says. “They will receive a college experience that prepares them to reach their own personal and career goals.”

PACE builds on numerous campus support services and resources for students with disabilities, including the Office of Student Disability Services and Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support’s renowned ASPIRE program, one of the nation’s most established programs for college students with autism spectrum disorder.

One of George’s and the program team’s goals is to serve as a model for other institutions. Saint Joseph’s program is one of 18 inclusive higher education programs in the state of Pennsylvania and the first at a Jesuit institution. PACE will welcome three students into the program for the fall 2022 semester.