WHITEWATER – University of Wisconsin-Whitewater programs serving disabled and culturally diverse students are delivering not just opportunity, but successful outcomes in retention, graduation and job placement.
Those programs were presented Thursday (Oct. 10) to the Education Committee of the UW System Board of Regents, which is holding its Oct. 10-11 meeting on the UW-Whitewater campus.
The offices of Disabled Student Services and Academic Support Services gave overviews of programs that have built UW-Whitewater’s statewide reputation for expanding access and opportunity.
Sandra Hall, director of Disabled Student Services, said UW-Whitewater’s focus on serving students with disabilities began with a state mandate in 1970. Since then, the campus has gone beyond mandates and forged a program that has helped disabled students thrive and succeed.
This fall, UW-Whitewater enrolled nearly 400 students with a variety of disabilities, she said, including the highest number of students using wheelchairs in the UW System. Hall’s office makes a wide range of services available, including assistive technology, alternative media, academic supports and physical therapy.
Several programs have gained national recognition. UW-Whitewater’s wheelchair basketball team won the national collegiate championships last spring, and the Milwaukee Bucks are sponsoring a second team of former UW-Whitewater students. The Authentic Voices program offers a one-of-a-kind camp for children nationwide who use assistive technology to speak. And the Youth Leadership Forum is Wisconsin’s only leadership campus for high school students with disabilities.
“The focus is on helping people with disabilities find lifelong success, both professionally and socially,” Hall said.
Perhaps the most impressive outcome is in professional success rates, she said. Historically, close to 90 percent of UW-Whitewater graduates with disabilities find employment within six months of graduating. That is countering a critical problem nationally, with an unemployment rate for people with disabilities of 60-70 percent.
Academic Support Services have posted equal success with students who are first-generation, low-income or from culturally diverse backgrounds. UW-Whitewater’s enrollment of freshmen from Wisconsin for fall 2000 included a total of 10.7 percent students of color, compared to the UW System average of 7.6 percent.
Beyond enrollment, UW-Whitewater has also produced a greater-than-average number of students of color who graduate. According to the latest UW System figures, which review students enrolled beginning in 1994, UW-Whitewater produced 16 percent of all African-American graduates and 12 percent of all Hispanic graduates in the System. Overall, UW-Whitewater produced only 8 percent of all UW System graduates.
“Our philosophy is to reach into middle and high schools and begin preparing students with potential for college success,” said Roger Pulliam, assistant vice chancellor for academic support services.
With a suite of more than 12 programs, Pulliam’s office helps steer students through the high school-to-college transition, supports them through graduation and prepares the best students for graduate and professional schools.
Two federally funded programs, both in their tenth year on campus, best illustrate the academic services continuum. The four-year Upward Bound program offers an intensive college prep experience for high-achieving students from high schools in Milwaukee, Racine-Kenosha and Palmyra-Eagle. It features a six-week summer program in which students are paired with faculty mentors and work in college offices.
Of the 93 Upward Bound students who graduated from high school, more than 60 percent enrolled in college, and the first classes are just reaching graduation age, Pulliam said.
On the other end of the spectrum is the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which is designed to increase the number of students from diverse backgrounds entering graduate and professional schools. This program helps promising students develop research skills, give national presentations on scholarly research and places them in graduate school internships around the country.
McNair has produced 84 alumni since 1992, and 66 of those students – nearly 80 percent – enrolled in a graduate or professional school. More than 40 percent have completed master’s degrees, and 17 percent are enrolled in Ph.D. programs en route to their ultimate goal of joining the nation’s faculty ranks.
Richard Telfer, UW-Whitewater