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Meeting of the Board of Regents | January 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010 - 11:10pm


VESID Committee


Rebecca H. Cort  


Designing Our Future



December 23, 2009


Goal 4






Issue for Discussion

An update on the CUNY LEADS (Linking Employment, Academics and Disability Services) project, highlighting the collaboration between CUNY and VESID developed in response to VESID’s “Designing Our Future” recommendations to invest in partnerships that improve employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.


Reason for Consideration


To inform the Regents and obtain their support for the proposed services and planned activities needed to support college students with disabilities in obtaining successful employment outcomes.

Proposed Handling

This item will come before the VESID Committee at its January 2010 meeting.

Procedural History

In November 2003, VESID presented to the Board of Regents a plan to review the design of its vocational rehabilitation process and functions to meet changing needs, respond to changes in the larger federally funded vocational services system, and for better use of resources.  VESID has taken steps to implement the “Designing Our Future” plan, as well as developing partnerships and initiating several key initiatives.  An extensive status report on the implementation plan was presented at the December 2009 VESID Committee meeting.  


A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was developed with the City University of New York (CUNY), providing funding to 17 campuses throughout the five boroughs of New York City.  Through this MOU, VESID and CUNY are collaborating to provide employment-related services to students with disabilities on designated CUNY campuses. 


The term of the MOU is August 1, 2007 to July 31, 2010.  We anticipate a total of $6.8 million of Section 110 federal funds will be suballocated to CUNY over the three-year period.  Funds are being used to support employment teams to provide services on each campus, facilitating both the educational and employment process of students with disabilities with the goal of competitive employment. 

Linking Employment, Academic, and Disability Services (LEADS) is a unique partnership between VESID and CUNY that was created to provide students with disabilities the skills to make realistic choices that would result in successful career outcomes.    The vision for LEADS is that it would establish itself as a national model of collaboration between the university and the state vocational rehabilitation agency.  It would serve as a best practices demonstration project and a training resource for the development of programs that increase the retention of students with disabilities in degree granting higher education programs, while preparing them for realistic and successful employment outcomes.

Project Implementation

Project Year One:  Foundation and Training

During this period, the LEADS staff was hired and the foundation of the project was developed. Each campus housed a LEADS counselor (seventeen campuses had a full-time counselor; all others had access to a LEADS counselor).  Training manuals were developed and cross training of CUNY LEADS and VESID professional staff was conducted.  Every LEADS counselor was connected with a VESID liaison counselor and was responsible for registering the students with VESID, providing rapid and seamless access to VESID services. 

By the end of the first year, the initial training was completed, resulting in collaborative and productive relationships between CUNY and VESID counselors.  CUNY was providing:  an additional counselor on each campus; outreach to identify students with disabilities on campus; academic advisement/support; career counseling, job readiness skills, and a connection to VESID for eligible students.  VESID was providing: eligibility determination; assistance in obtaining disability documentation in order to establish eligibility (i.e. authorize testing); purchase of assistive technology; tuition assistance; textbooks for students who meet economic need criteria; transportation assistance; support for additional tutoring; job placement assistance; and additional services as per “individualized plan for employment.”  Extensive training, collaboration, and marketing yielded results more quickly than anticipated.

Project Year Two:  Case Management and Career Development

With the foundation and ongoing cross-training in place, the focus of year two was case management and career development.  LEADS students were being counseled and monitored during every step of the job placement process.  Emphasis was placed on the role of the LEADS counselor in assisting the LEADS students in accessing the comprehensive services of the CUNY career offices.  In addition, career workshops were developed and conducted by the LEADS counselors.  A career placement pilot project has been collaboratively developed and facilitated by CUNY and VESID which included activities such as resume writing and mock interviews conducted by employers.  LEADS students were actively involved in the job seeking process and a network of potential employers had been established.

Data collection and research was another focus during this phase of the project.  CUNY LEADS students had been entered into VESID’s Case Management System (CaMS).  In addition, CUNY developed comprehensive data collection software for documenting LEADS activities and strategies.

Project Year Three:  Best Practices and Program Replication

Year three of the project began on November 1, 2009.  This is the final year of the MOU.  In addition to ongoing recruitment, case management, and career services activities, a focus this year is on the dissemination of the programmatic and statistical information that has been tracked throughout the project.  This includes compilation of manuals and materials, analysis of data, preparation of program model for replication and presentation of data results. 

The collaboration between VESID and LEADS staff, considered critical to the success of the project, is ongoing.  Bi-monthly meetings continue to take place with VESID and LEADS counselors, as well as with VESID and LEADS administration.


Highlights and Outcomes


  • On November 1, 2009, the start of the third year of the project, 1,673 CUNY LEADS students, representing all CUNY campuses, had been referred to VESID. 


  • CUNY LEADS students represent all facets of campus life including: a campus valedictorian, Emerging Leaders participants and a president of student government.


  • LEADS students are motivated to succeed and benefit from LEADS services as evidenced by an 86 percent retention rate in the program.


  • 76 percent of all LEADS students are preparing to complete degree or certificate programs.  Level of Current Course of Study include:  Certificates (84); Associates (834); Bachelors (674); Masters (79); and Doctorates (2).


  • There have been approximately 70 successful job placements to date with a starting median wage of $13.70 per hour.  The placement rate for job-ready LEADS participants is 70 percent; however, 75 percent of LEADS participants will be ready to seek employment between 2010-2012. 


  • Graduating LEADS students have careers in fields including finance, accounting, human resources, counseling, law, information technology, the arts, government and others. 


The establishment of CUNY LEADS has resulted in numerous successful outcomes, but this program is now at a crossroads as the question of continued funding arises.  An infrastructure has been established and a model exists that can be duplicated.   CUNY is exploring alternative sources of funding by meeting with its executive staff as well as legislative staff.  As CUNY research becomes available on the LEADS program as a model for replication, VESID will share this information with its partners and colleagues as a best practice for replication.


The Board of Regents will continue to support VESID’s “Designing our Future” initiative and implementation plan, which includes the investment in partnerships that improve employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Timeline for Implementation

              With Regents support, the described activities will continue to move forward, including dissemination of information on the results of the CUNY LEADS project.