MSU’s ACCESS Program Expands with Innovative Online Courses to Reach More Students with Disabilities Ages 14 and Older

Contact: Allison Matthews

STARKVILLE, Mississippi — After more than a decade of giving students with intellectual and developmental disabilities a chance to experience college while learning valuable career and life skills, the State of Mississippi is expanding its reach with online enrichment courses.

ACCESS Online is now open to any student aged 14 or over, regardless of grade level or disability. The ACCESS Online program, among the first of its kind nationally, offers innovative courses taught through MSU’s online platform, Canvas, with a curriculum that helps students improve their functional skills, increase their independence , develop their college and career readiness and develop their self-advocacy skills.

The ACCESS four-year on-campus residential program was established at MSU in 2010 to provide post-secondary education to students who would otherwise not attend college. It is the only comprehensive post-secondary bridging program in the state and offers students the opportunity for a full and inclusive college experience, with an emphasis on academics, career development, independent living and socialization.

“Our mission is to provide students with the knowledge and confidence to gain gainful employment and live as independently as possible in their communities,” said Stacy Jackson, Academic Coordinator.

“With this in mind, we wanted to expand opportunities for more students to gain knowledge and develop their college and career readiness skills. This means increased opportunities for people with disabilities, whether college or a career is their next step, or those who simply want to seek more independence,” she said, crediting the Center for Distance Learning with the university deserves credit for making the additional online program possible.

Enrolling in ACCESS Online courses requires only a simple registration process, and courses are offered in conjunction with MSU’s fall, spring, and summer semesters. Fall and spring courses last 13 weeks, while summer courses last 10 weeks. All classes are self-paced with weekly deadlines and taught by MSU’s certified online ACCESS instructors. Students typically spend three to six hours per week on course content.

Jackson said there are options for full financial sponsorship to cover the cost for eligible Mississippi residents through the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, and self-pay is also accepted.

She pointed out that high schools can partner with MSU’s ACCESS Online to help achieve Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and expand student learning options.

Abby Voyles, a special education teacher at New Albany High School, described the experience of an 11th grader currently enrolled in ACCESS Online. NAHS helps facilitate his participation in the program and provides classroom support while he completes his courses.

“We make time throughout the week to help him individually while he works on the material and completes all the homework. This includes watching a lecture, completing guided notes and weekly assignments, as well as a weekly test and bonus work for extra credit,” Voyles explained.

She said NAHS had a positive experience this semester piloting the MSU ACCESS Online program to create more options for special education students. With only one student currently enrolled, she expects more to enroll this fall. She said the parents of her current ACCESS Online student were very supportive and also hoped that he could apply for admission to the ACCESS four-year on-campus residential program after graduating from high school.

“ACCESS Online is not a prerequisite for this, but his parents were happy he had this opportunity,” Voyles said.

Jackson said that in addition to being good for students, “It’s great for special education teachers because it offers student-focused content and curriculum focused on topics like employment or management. money to help students identify their interests and potential careers, as well as how to manage their finances and make wise spending and saving choices.

She said Madison Central High School is also piloting the program and she hopes to see more high schools using it as an important resource. Although the online program is not required to apply for the ACCESS on-campus program, Jackson said some families interested in the on-campus program are using ACCESS Online to build prerequisite skills.

To learn more, contact Jackson at [email protected] or visit www.access.msstate.edu/online-education.

MSU is the main university in Mississippi, available online at www.msstate.edu.

Karen O. Fielding