UT-K’s FUTURE Program Offers Inclusive Education in a Big College Town

/ January 31, 2017

By Janet Shouse

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.


Over the past several weeks, we have learned about Tennessee’s options for inclusive higher education programs for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These programs give students with IDD an opportunity to experience college life, with all its joys and nuisances, as well as hone their work skills and their self-advocacy skills.

I’ve recently learned that three additional schools are planning to hold Community Conversations to explore the idea of bringing an inclusive higher education program to their campuses. Here are the dates:

Today, we focus on the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s FUTURE Postsecondary Education Program. This program, like the others across Tennessee, is a two-year course of study that empowers students to achieve gainful employment in the community. FUTURE helps young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities make a successful transition from high school to adult life by providing them with career counseling and helping them develop their academic, vocational, and decision-making skills. Upon successful completion of the program, students receive a vocational certificate.

Tom Beeson photo

Tom Beeson

I contacted Tom Beeson recently to learn more about the FUTURE program. Tom is the program coordinator for FUTURE and a board certified behavior analyst. He is also currently finishing his Ed.S. degree in Educational Technology. He was kind enough to share the following information with me.

Q. How did your program get started? Who served as champions? Faculty or family or someone else?
A: The FUTURE Program was started by Drs. David Cihak and Melinda Gibbons, both of whom serve in the College of Health Education and Human Sciences. Dr. Cihak is an associate professor whose research looks at the effectiveness of instructional and behavioral interventions that result in greater competency, college and community access, and acceptance for adolescences and young adults with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Gibbons, also an associate professor, focuses on career development and job exploration for students with IDD.

Q: What is the eligibility criteria?
A: Eligibility is based on an application review, personal interview and individual testing. Students are admitted who we feel could benefit from our program, would not be admitted to a more traditional post-secondary educational program, and have basic safety awareness. FUTURE is a comprehensive transition program for unique learners, highly motivated young adults whose disability is characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. Students typically received special education services while in high school, graduating with either a regular diploma or a special diploma.

Q: How many students are in the program?
A: Our program has 18 students this academic year.

Q: What does a student’s day look like?
A: FUTURE students’ days are very busy.  Depending on their interests and abilities, student take from five to seven classes each semester, work at an internship either on or off campus, and still, somehow find time to have fun.

Q: Do you offer residential options?
A: At the time, we do not have housing for students, but this remains a long-term goal.

Q: What’s the tuition? And, if you know, how do most families pay for that?
A: Students pay the standard university tuition, which is $12,724 for in-state students, and standard fees, plus a $5,000 program fee.

There are several sources of financial support for FUTURE students. Most receive for Transitional Learning Services funding through Vocational Rehabilitation. Many are also eligible for Federal Pell Grants, and some qualify for the Tennessee TN STEP-UP Scholarship. A few have received private scholarships.

Q: What the employment rate of your graduates?
A: The employment rate for our graduates is around 80%.

Q: What sets your program apart from others?
A: Currently, FUTURE is the only program operating in East Tennessee.

Q: Anything else you think is important for students and families to know about inclusive higher education programs in general or yours in particular.
A: FUTURE accepts applications all year long, but we interview each spring. We are still accepting applications for fall 2017.

If you have missed the previous Rise to Work blogs on postsecondary programs, Tennessee currently has five inclusive higher education programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The others are:

I’d like to thank Tom for providing with me with the lowdown on the FUTURE program. Tom earned his master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received further graduate-level education from North Carolina State University, the University of North Texas, and the University of Tennessee. He has more than 20 years of experience in treatment and educational settings, providing cognitive/behavior therapy for adolescents and community-based services for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

If you would like to learn more about inclusive higher education programs, you may want to attend the 3rd Annual Inclusive Southeastern Postsecondary Education Conference and Capacity Building Institute in Nashville on June 26-27, 2017.

And I’ll offer another 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.


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