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Meeting of the Board of Regents | December 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 - 8:30am

 SED Seal




Adult Education and Workforce Development Committee


Kevin G. Smith


VR Postsecondary Initiatives

College, Vocational Training and Business Schools




November 24, 2010




Goals 1 and 2





Issue for Discussion

The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program within the Office of Adult Education and Workforce Development plays a significant role in supporting individuals with disabilities in New York State with opportunities for postsecondary education and training leading to employment and economic self-sufficiency.  The Board of Regents will examine the current status of these efforts so that resources for this critical work can be preserved in the current fiscal climate.

Reason for Consideration


To inform the Regents and obtain their support for the proposed services and planned activities needed to support individuals with disabilities in obtaining successful employment outcomes through postsecondary education and training.

Proposed Handling

This item will come before the Adult Education and Workforce Development Committee at its December 2010 meeting.

Procedural History


In February 2009, the former VESID Committee of the Board of Regents was briefed on how new initiatives, such as the Model Transition Program and CUNY LEADS, had led to a significant increase in the number of individuals with disabilities obtaining financial support from the VR Program for postsecondary training.    These new initiatives on transition and postsecondary education significantly increased the number of individuals served by the VR Program.  As of September 30, 2010, the VR Program was serving more than 53,000 individuals who were determined eligible or who had an individualized plan for employment (IPE). More than 11,000 of these individuals are in college and other postsecondary programs. This is almost 26 percent of the total number of individuals with disabilities who are attending institutions of higher education in New York State. 

In order to sustain financial support for all individuals attending college through the VR Program, we adjusted the level of financial support provided with VR dollars.   Anticipating that tuition at the public colleges may increase for the 2010–2011 academic year, the VR Program established a maximum tuition limit in policy of $4,970 per academic year.  While SUNY did not raise its tuition, this policy is now in place to ensure that we can still support individuals in college going forward within our existing fiscal resources.


Individuals with disabilities are motivated to pursue education and training leading to quality employment and lifelong careers.  They are participating in postsecondary education through the VR Program in unprecedented numbers. These individuals are engaged in all types of postsecondary training:  college study at the associates, bachelors and graduate levels in all academic areas; vocational training, business and trade schools in the full range of skilled occupations.   Postsecondary education is essential to providing individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to earn a living wage.   Individuals with some college or an associate’s degree will earn 26 percent more than high school graduates.  These individuals are also less likely to be unemployed even when the economy is in a recession.

President Obama is actively promoting collaboration between community colleges and industry as a strategy for economic recovery.  The majority of VR Program consumers in college are attending community colleges.  Thus, the VR Program is well positioned to lend its expertise to enabling more individuals with disabilities to complete industry certificate or associate degree programs that lead to high quality employment.

What is the SED Vocational Rehabilitation Program Postsecondary Policy?

The VR Program is able to support eligible individuals with disabilities that require vocational or college training to achieve a specific employment goal described in their Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). Postsecondary training is a key vocational rehabilitation service that will enable individuals with disabilities to compete in the job market and earn competitive wages. Postsecondary training is also one of the strategies in the SED Vocational Rehabilitation State Plan to meet the U.S. Department of Education required performance indicators for the VR Program.

In accordance with the VR College and University Training Policy, the VR Program provides a variety of services related to college training for individuals with disabilities.  The services include, but are not limited to, counseling and guidance, assessment, textbooks and materials, tuition assistance, room and board, tutorials, interpreting, and transportation.  Depending on the individual’s financial resources, participation in the cost of services may be required.  The VR Program’s contribution is calculated after TAP, Pell, other grants and scholarships, and the individual’s financial resources have been applied.            

College training may take place at an accredited university, college, junior or community college, or through correspondence study or distance learning.  This includes SUNY, CUNY, independent and proprietary colleges and universities.  The number of individuals with disabilities supported by the VR Program for college training has significantly increased over the last four years.  During Federal Fiscal Year 2009, 10,121 individuals with disabilities participated in college training, which is 17 percent of the VR active caseload.  Preliminary data for Federal Fiscal Year 2010 indicate a decline in the number of individuals sponsored by the VR Program, caused mainly by the change in the economic need policy related to textbooks.

            For non-degree training at business, trade and other schools, individuals with disabilities are able to pursue skills training and earn credentials that enable them to enter the workforce with a higher level of earnings than unskilled entry-level employment.   During Federal Fiscal Year 2009, 4,382 individuals with disabilities participated in non-degree business, trade or other schools.  This is 7.3 percent of the VR active caseload and the highest number of individuals that the VR Program has ever supported in vocational business, trade or other schools.

In total, for both college and business/vocational school training, the VR Program provided financial support to more than 11,000 individuals with disabilities which is 21 percent of the active caseload.

Cost Effective Services

In May 2009, the VR Program implemented cost containment provisions in policy to ensure that we can continue to financially support all eligible individuals and meet the increasing demand for postsecondary education and training within the constraints of the VR Program’s fiscal resources.  These changes included establishing a limit on fees, providing books to only those who demonstrate economic need and instituting a program cost limit of $10,000 for non-degree training.   These policies were effective in stemming the escalating expenditures.  

Even with these changes, college and university training costs consumed an increasing portion of VR funds over the past year relative to total number of individuals participating in VR services.  In order to ensure equitable funding for VR participants whose rehabilitation needs span the full scope of VR services, the VR Program implemented additional funding limits for the 2010-2011 academic year.  The VR Program decided to limit tuition to a maximum of the SUNY rate for the 2009-2010 academic year and textbooks to a maximum of $250 per semester. 

The VR Program continues to support post-secondary training consistent with the performance requirements described in our State Plan to improve the quality of employment outcomes and wage levels of individuals completing VR services.

Innovative Collaboration


The CUNY LEADS (Linking Employment, Academic, and Disability Services) Project is an innovative partnership between the VR Program and CUNY that provides students with disabilities with the skills to make realistic choices that result in successful career outcomes.  Even though VR Program funding for the project ended in July 2010, the VR Program and CUNY are still collaborating to provide employment-related services to students with disabilities on designated CUNY campuses.  The expertise of the VR Program Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors combined with the CUNY LEADS staff continue to support students in achieving significantly positive outcomes:

  • Joint VR Program - LEADS students are motivated to succeed and benefit from LEADS services as evidenced by an 86 percent college retention rate;
  • LEADS students have a 72 percent employment rate as compared to a 55 percent national employment rate;
  • LEADS students earn 35 percent higher wage levels when compared all VR Program consumers entering employment;
  • Upon entering the labor market, LEADS graduates become tax payers and will use considerably less public benefits, including Medicaid; and,
  • Graduating LEADS students have careers in the full spectrum of fields including finance, accounting, human resources, counseling, law, information technology, the arts, government and others.
Disability Support Services


In addition to tuition, fees and books, disability support services are often funded through the VR Program, such as interpreter services, note taking and tutoring.  Expenditures for these supports can be significant.  For example, in FFY 2008, the VR Program encumbered more than $2.0 Million for sign language interpreters for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.  As the costs for these services to the VR Program continue to escalate, it poses a challenge in determining the responsibilities of institutions of higher education under the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide equal access versus the obligations of the VR Program to support eligible individuals in pursuing an employment outcome.


SED can demonstrate leadership by facilitating a broader discussion of the needs of students with disabilities participating in postsecondary education, within the context of limited resources.  The Board of Regents can continue to promote policy that reinforces its commitment to support students in higher education so that they engage in careers leading to economic independence.

As the number of students with disabilities participating in postsecondary education continues to increase, we find that both vocational rehabilitation programs and colleges are challenged to finance accommodations and supports necessary for successful completion.   At the same time, the SED VR Program is committed to supporting students in higher education so that they can be launched into high quality employment leading to meaningful careers.  The State Rehabilitation Council, in their statutory role of advising the VR Program, can help to formulate the necessary policies to achieve this outcome.

If higher education is to be a platform for launching careers, we need to reexamine our support structures.   While the VR Program does play a significant role in supporting students with disabilities in postsecondary education, any new initiatives need to look across the spectrum of available programs and resources. There are several areas that we must assess across SED workforce and higher education programs:

  • Postsecondary transition is a common objective of special education, adult education and for transitioning youth and adults with disabilities served by the VR Program.  Many students, with or without disabilities, need flexible supports in order to succeed, including financial supports for college expenses.  In a 2003 position paper entitled People with Disabilities and Postsecondary Education by the National Council on Disability (NCD), it was documented that students with disabilities actually receive less financial aid than their non-disabled peers.  NCD recommends that financial aid provisions must be made more flexible to address this inequity.  Can financial aid programs, such as the ADA Tuition Assistance Program rules, be made more flexible? Can SED develop or reinvigorate innovative strategies for postsecondary transition, perhaps utilizing lessons learned from the CUNY LEADS project?   Can we find new ways to partner with institutions of higher education, industry and workforce investment partners that create efficiencies in resources and improved outcomes?  How can the Vocational Rehabilitation and Independent Living Programs connect with the postsecondary transition initiatives and program models funded by adult education, including regional pipeline efforts from literacy zones to community colleges?


  • The funding of disability support services, such as sign language interpreter services, has created fiscal strains for both colleges and the VR Program.  Are there new strategies for approaching the fiscal challenges this poses for us?  Legislative options, such as upgrading the “Readers Aid” program, can potentially begin to address the reasonable accommodation needs of students with disabilities in higher education.  Are we using the "Readers Aid" program to the maximum benefit?  Can this program be transformed into a model of cooperative funding of those necessary support services for students with disabilities?
  • The Higher Education Act included provisions for colleges, particularly community colleges, to create programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities.  Community College degree and certificate programs are offering more training opportunities linked to workforce development, “green” jobs and other promising areas of economic activity.  These opportunities need to be inclusive of people with disabilities.  What role should SED (Higher Education, Vocational Rehabilitation, Independent Living, Adult Career and Continuing Education) play to promote innovation as colleges begin to experiment with these types of initiatives?


Timeline for Implementation

            With Regents support, the described activities will continue to move forward.