Igniting the Dream of Education and Access at Lipscomb

/ January 24, 2017

By Janet Shouse

IDEAL cohort

Some of the IDEAl students gather around Lipscomb Bison

This week, as I continue our look at Tennessee’s inclusive higher education programs, I want to focus on the IDEAL program at Lipscomb University in Nashville, a Christian university with more than 4,500 students. As you can see from the headline, IDEAL stands for Igniting the Dream of Education and Access at Lipscomb.

According to the Lipscomb University website, the ultimate goal of the IDEAL program is to equip students to obtain better employment options. Lipscomb has many community partners that provide a variety of internships and job training opportunities for IDEAL students. Students begin in their first semester with on-campus internships. These placements are sought once the career goals are identified for each student. The goal is to scaffold necessary skills so the student is always learning and practicing skills that will benefit him in his future job placement. Students have off-campus internships in their second year of the program. The students’ job interests and abilities are matched with available openings. Students complete at least four work experiences to include on their resumes upon completion of the program.

The program’s vision: IDEAL provides young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities access to opportunities for growth and independence that promote inclusion, belonging and contribution, which can lead to life-changing outcomes, thus impacting students, families and the community.

Q: How did your program get started? Who served as champions? Faculty or family or someone else?

A: In this case, it was faculty who was also family. Dr. Candice McQueen, who was dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education at the time, approached Dr. Misty Vetter Parsley, a faculty member in special education, to encourage her to start an inclusive higher education program. Dr. McQueen, who now is Tennessee’s commissioner for the Department of Education, had served on the task force that originally started Next Steps at Vanderbilt, and since she has a brother with a disability, she highly valued a postsecondary education for students with disabilities. The Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities opened a grant cycle around the same time and provided funding for the first two years. Misty, whom I have known for years through her work with what was then the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee (now Autism Tennessee), her work with TRIAD at Vanderbilt, and as my son’s very own autism consultant in Williamson County Schools, was delighted with the idea. So, Misty took a group from Lipscomb University to tour the Next Steps program and immediately had 20 new supporters! (Great minds think alike.) Misty reports that support has been strong on campus from day one. The program began in fall 2013.

About the Author

Janet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.


Q: What is the eligibility criteria?

A: Students must have a documented intellectual disability, be 18 to 26 years old, have completed high school, and be motivated to attend college.

Q: How many students are in the program?

A: There are currently 21 students in the IDEAL program, and eight new students are accepted each year.

misty vetter parsley

Misty Vetter Parsley

Q: What does a student’s day look like?

A: Students take two academic classes per semester based on their interests and career goals, such as art, theater, music, science, IT, nutrition, health, education, early childhood studies, and/or Bible. Students also attend program-specific classes. Each IDEAL student takes two classes per semester that teach skills such as technology, banking, cooking, cleaning, shopping, hygiene, social skills, self-awareness, safety, and self-advocacy. They attend chapel two days a week, eat lunch with friends, study with peers, work at an internship on- or off-campus, and hang out in the student center or attend Bison sporting events.

Peer mentors are an essential component of the IDEAL program, and thus Lipscomb students without disabilities volunteer to mentor the IDEAL students and accompany them to meals, chapel, and the gym. The mentors also help the students study and organize their course materials. Volunteers are matched based on expertise, desires and their individual class schedules.

Q: Do you offer residential options?

A: Yes, currently IDEAL is piloting its residential program with two students, and plans are to expand that.

Q: What’s the tuition? And, if you know, how do most families pay for that?

A: For fall 2017, tuition is $15,750. Students use Vocational Rehabilitation funding, which will pay $4,800 a year, as well as the Tennessee STEP-UP Scholarship, which is similar to the state’s HOPE scholarship. This scholarship will provide $1,750 per semester. See Tennessee STEP-UP Scholarship for more information. And, some use Pell grants.

Q: What the employment rate of your graduates?

A: We have 11 graduates so far. Five are attending their third year, which is new, and four of those are employed part time. One now attends Austin Peay State University, one has chosen not to work, and the remaining four are employed, either part time or full time.

Q: What sets your program apart from others?

A: “Definitely our small supportive community,” Misty says. “Professors know your name. Peers seek you out to eat lunch with you. It’s a safe, quiet campus!”

IDEAL check

See photo caption below

Q: Anything else you think is important for students and families to know about inclusive postsecondary programs in general or yours in particular.

A: “Learn what skills are important for college!” she says. “Using email, texting, advocating for your needs will all help you succeed!”

As I mentioned in earlier blogs, Tennessee currently has five inclusive higher education programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They are:

For additional information about the Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education programs and the alliance they have created, check out the Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance at tnihealliance.org/.

Vanderbilt University will host the 3rd Annual Inclusive Southeastern Postsecondary Education Conference and Capacity Building Institute in Nashville on June 26-27, 2017. For more information or to register, see the Southeastern Postsecondary Education Alliance conference link.

My thanks to Misty Vetter Parsley for sharing information about IDEAL. Misty has been at Lipscomb for five years and started IDEAL three years ago after working in special education in the public schools for 15 years and seeing the need for postsecondary education opportunities.  Misty currently serves as the director of Special Education and the faculty advisor for IDEAL. Lipscomb received a federal Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities grant for IDEAL in 2015.

If you have questions about inclusive higher education programs, please contact me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

Yet again, a quick reminder to join us for Tennessee’s Disability Day on the Hill on Feb. 8 from 9:00 to 2:00 p.m. Learn about your legislature, about updates in public policy regarding individuals with disabilities, and share your story with your lawmakers. Please make appointments with your legislators and register for Disability Day on the Hill at https://tndisabilitydayonthehill17.splashthat.com/.

Photo Caption: IDEAL staff accepts check from Student Government fundraiser

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