Developmentally disabled seek higher education

Posted at 11:42 PM, May 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-04 01:41:59-04

Connor Long is no stranger to the camera.  As one of Denver7's Special Olympics reporters, he tells stories each week about athletes in our area. 

On Wednesday, he'll head to Colorado's Capitol, not to tell other peoples' stories, but instead to tell his own.

"People with developmental abilities or disabilities would like to change the world," Long said.
It's the message he hopes lawmakers hear when he testifies in front of the Senate Education Committee in support of Senate Bill 196. If passed, it would fund three new inclusive education pilot programs, giving him, and the estimated 6,834 intellectually and developmentally disabled students residing in Colorado a chance to go to college in our state.

"Right now, the minute they graduate, the rest of the students, their peers, their colleagues, go onto the next phase of their life.  For these students, it's like falling off the cliff, there's no opportunity's for them," said Beth Leon, board president for Colorado Initiative for Inclusive Higher Education.

Currently, 47 states offer such opportunities across 242 institutions of higher education.  Colorado is not one of them.  Leon said Colorado students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are forced to look for higher education out of state with high tuition and long wait lists.

"We have friends and families where they've done out of state placements, and sometimes they're successful and sometimes they're not.  In our case, we think an in-state circumstance would be best for him and for us as parents to kind of begin our own transition of letting go," said Brian Long, Connor's dad.

By keeping intellectually and developmentally disabled students in classrooms with their peers, it will help them learn life skills and find their place in their community.

"If he goes to CU and becomes a Buff, well then for the rest of the life he has that in common with everyone else who went to CU," Brian Long said.

If the bill passes, the pilot programs will begin at University of Northern Colorado, University of Colorado Colorado Springs and Arapahoe Community College as early as the fall.  Supporters of the bill said it will provide funding for the first 4 years at a cost of about $300,000 a year. 

The goal is the program will then become self-sustaining with tuition covering the costs.