Program offers disabled students true college experience

By: Arianna Poland

In any given room on the college’s campus there will be students of varying ages, nationalities, and life situations. But inside a few particular classrooms are students who many thought wouldn’t get the chance to attend college. Thanks to a little known campus program, those students are getting the experience of a lifetime.

The College Learning Education and Resources (CLEAR) program offers students with cognitive disabilities the opportunity to enroll in college courses and get a true college experience. The program, originally started in 1977 as a Saturday only program with 40 students, now serves more that 100 students and has expanded to offer a weekday class.

Kathy Kennedy, Manager of CLEAR, said that working with the CLEAR program is a dream job and that the people she works with, and her students, become a family.

“I don’t know that you’ll find a group of people more loving or supportive,” Kennedy said of CLEAR’s students.

In order to be admitted to the CLEAR program, a student must meet the entrance criteria, which can be found on the program’s webpage, But, that doesn’t mean a student will automatically be admitted. Due to space limitations, enrollment is capped. Students are encouraged to come to the January-March session because enrollment is lower.

While there isn’t a required criterion for graduation, there is a Certificate Ceremony ever spring where the students who have attended any of the sessions are given a Certificate of Completion if they attended five out of the seven weeks of the course. If they were unable to complete five weeks, they are still given a Certificate of Participation. A guest speaker, usually someone from the college, is invited, and there is cake and punch.

CLEAR and the college work closely together to ensure that the students are getting a true college experience. They have received special permission from the college that allows students to get an identification card, something that seems so insignificant to most college students, but means the world to one of the CLEAR students, according to Kennedy.

Currently the program only offers non-credit courses, but there are hopes that will change in the future. There is a nationwide initiative to make programs like CLEAR an even more typical college experience, where students would be required to take a core set of classes and would be able to earn a degree.

“We’re providing the material at a level they can master successfully and get a sense of accomplishment,” Kennedy said.

The program employs a staff of formal instructors, and eight paid aides, mostly former students. Kennedy said they make the best aides because they’ve been there for a while and know what it’s like to be a student.

CLEAR welcomes volunteers, especially college students, because it is one more way for the students to feel more like a typical college student.

“It’s really the best way to truly understand what we do and how much the students enjoy it,” Kennedy said.

But, you must make a time commitment to be there. If you aren’t able to make a significant commitment, you can always volunteer during the speech tournament. It’s held every semester, on a Sunday. Volunteers are used to coach the students on their speeches and serve as judges.

“It’s the best way to get involved without having to give up a significant amount of time,” Kennedy said.

Running CLEAR can be tough, but when Kennedy thinks about her students and their physical challenges, she knows she will be alright.

“School is rough and hard for everyone. But these students are here for the sheer joy of learning. When I think about what they go through, I know I can make it through,” Kennedy said.

If you would like to get involved with CLEAR, contact Kathy Kennedy, at (913) 469-8500, x3257.

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