The college experience starts at Perkins

A new nine-month program equips college-bound students with skills they need to earn a degree

Two students sitting in a classroom

Students who attend College Success will enroll in college courses at local universities, where they'll earn credits to put towards a degree.

A new college preparation program at Perkins School for the Blind was born out of a troubling statistic.

While the national graduation rate for college students at four-year institutions hovers around 60 percent, the reverse is true for those who are blind or visually impaired.

“Right now, 60 percent of students who pursue postsecondary education who are blind or visually impaired are not finishing,” said Tovah Miller. “This is a national problem, it’s an international problem.”

It’s also a problem that Miller, and Perkins, feel uniquely qualified to solve. This spring, Perkins announced College Success@Perkins, a nine-month gap year program to prepare students with visual impairment with the tools they need to graduate from college. Applications are currently being accepted for Fall 2018.

To design the program, the Perkins team interviewed dozens of students with visual impairment about their college experiences. Their responses helped shape the curriculum, which includes courses on assistive technology, orientation and mobility, and financial planning.

“The students we talked to were academically ready for college,” said Miller, the program director, “but they felt insecure or were lacking in skills.”

Students who attend College Success can expect a fully immersive experience. They will live in college-style dorms on the Perkins campus, where they’ll hone their skills for managing their day-to-day lives.

“A huge part of college is understanding that your decisions have real consequences,” said Miller. “If you want to stay up until 2 a.m. making ramen noodles, what does that mean for your ability to get to class?”

Participants will tour college campuses where they’ll socialize with other students, eat in the dining halls and meet with disability officers to learn about accommodations.

They’ll also enroll in college courses at local universities, where they’ll earn credits to put towards a degree. Without the burden of a full course load, students will have time to work through any accessibility challenges and sharpen their self-advocacy skills with support from Perkins educators.

“It’s likely that students will encounter inaccessibility at some point in their college careers, whether it’s an online discussion board or a homework assignment,” said Miller. “They need to know what to do when that happens.”

They’ll also begin thinking about life after college. Students will learn how to search, apply and interview for jobs. And they’ll also have the opportunity to shadow professionals in various fields to learn more about potential career paths.

This combination of classroom learning and on-the-ground experience is what excites Miller most about College Success, and what she hopes will lead to a new set of statistics.

“We’re expecting all students in this program to walk away with the skills and confidence they need to graduate from college,” she said. “I want 100 percent of our students to earn their diploma.”

Learn more about College Success@Perkins by visiting Perkins.org/College.