Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth hosts state legislators, scholarships needed

KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov. 3) – Affording college can be a struggle for many students and their…

Georgia (Nov 3, 2015)KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov. 3) – Affording college can be a struggle for many students and their families. For students in Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth those financial challenges can sometimes be the barrier between the students and their recently gained access to higher education.

Those challenges, and what some families have had to do to rise above them, was the focus of a legislative “listening session” on “Post-Secondary Education and Employment Options for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,” held on campus Oct. 26. Academy staff, advocates for Academy students and parents took the opportunity to lobby state legislators for scholarship money.

“Twenty-one out of our 28 students this fall applied for assistance,”  Katherine Rigsby told state Reps. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) and Bubber Epps (R-Dry Branch). “Those students only had access to 12 partial scholarships, and six students had to withdraw because they couldn’t afford it.”

Dempsey and Epps sit on the Georgia House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee on human resources.

“What a privilege it is for this study committee to listen to strong advocates for and parents of these students,” said Dempsey, who chairs the five-member committee. “We want to help make life more meaningful for these students, and help each and every person who can work and make our state better.”

The Academy, which began with three students in 2009, offers a unique certificate program designed to provide students with intellectual and developmental disabilities a college experience. Part of the WellStar College of Health and Human Services, Academy students audit college level courses, in addition to taking classes focused on social and life skills in a two-year certificate program. There is also an advanced certificate program available focused on leadership and the students’ “areas of “passion.”

“Our Academy students access all the resources available on campus, including housing, the rec center, and Owl-O-Ween,” said Karla Wade, Academy Mechanics. “The Academy students are seamlessly woven into the tapestry of campus.”

That integration, however, comes at an even higher price for Academy students, who are provided with peer mentors and additional support services. Academy students are not eligible for Pell grants or the HOPE scholarship, vehicles many traditional students use to help finance their education.

“This program is awesome,” parent Patricia Roper told the legislators. “It has given our students with special needs opportunities of a lifetime.”

Roper went on to say it was “just short of a miracle” she was able to provide her daughter, Brielyn, with the opportunity.

“Her aspiration was to attend college like her brothers,” Roper, a two-time cancer survivor said. “When I found out about the Academy, I had no job, I was living with someone else. I sold my jewelry, my car and had a garage sale for the rest.”

According to Roper, Brielyn blossomed her first semester on campus.

“My other children had access to Pell grants and scholarships,” she said. “These students have potential; they can do a lot of things. We have to find a way to find some money for these students.”

Wendy Allen also sold her house so her daughter could attend the Academy.

“The Academy is providing our students a future instead of making them always need the system,” she said. “They do have something to give back.”

-- By Jennifer Hafer


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit