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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Editorial: Special ed outreach benefits all

The UA, in partnership with the Tucson Unified School District, is piloting a program that would allow intellectually handicapped students to get a full college experience, from taking classes to participating in campus life.

The program, Project FOCUS (Focusing Opportunities with Community and University Support) is part of a $2.5 million, five-year federal effort to help special education students pay for and adjust to college, according to a report in the Arizona Daily Star.

For many of these students, the program will mean the difference between a low-paying job in fast food and opportunities in fields like data-entry, which have much higher pay and may include benefits and job security. In addition, the social aspects of being on a college campus help those with intellectual disabilities build social and interpersonal skills, which further increase their employment opportunities.

The UA program is part of a growing effort on many campuses to integrate intellectually handicapped people into university life. According to The Associated Press, only four similar programs existed just eight years ago. Today, more than 250 campuses allow these students to enroll in classes and provide them with extra help from tutors and mentors.

Of course, no such program comes without its detractors. Right-wing thinker Charlotte Allen voiced the concerns of many fiscally conservative skeptics when she told the AP she thought such programs undermined the true purpose of college, which is, she said, to earn a degree. “”It may make intellectually disabled people feel better, but is that what college is supposed to be all about?”” Allen said.

It’s easy, but inaccurate, to say that something is not useful when it doesn’t seem immediately useful. True, most of these students are not seeking a bachelor’s degree — the UA’s program is designed to provide just two years of classes, after which the students can decide what to pursue next. However, to dismiss such programs as wasteful is incredibly shortsighted.

In addition to offering an incredible opportunity to people who would otherwise have an almost impossible time seeking a university education, providing better life skills and job market training to intellectually handicapped people can only help the overall economy. Without such training, their choices are more or less limited to adult assisted living communities, living with family, accepting some kind of government-subsidized help or working for minimum wage or below at a low-skill job. None of these options contribute to a vibrant, healthy economy.

On the other hand, a better educated, more highly skilled and better-paid workforce contributes enormously to the overall health of the economy. Programs such as Project FOCUS help people become part of such a workforce, providing individuals with opportunities and enhancing the overall vitality of the economy. Dismissing such programs because of their cost now blindly ignores their payoff later. The UA and Tucson Unified School District deserve commendation for piloting such a project.

— Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Heather Price-Wright, Luke Money, Colin Darland and Steven Kwan. They can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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