Michigan State University has received more than $1 million from the U.S. Department of Education to train rehabilitation counselors who are ready to help people with disabilities succeed in the job market.
During the five-year grant, 15 students in MSU's Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling program will earn full scholarships with a stipend. These scholars will complete an internship at Michigan's state vocational rehabilitation agencies dedicated to serving individuals with disabilities. Upon graduation, these scholars are expected to work at similar state organizations – a career path that remains in high demand.
The employment rate for people with disabilities has remained around 20% for the last two decades, compared with roughly 65% currently for those without disability.
"Rehabilitation counselors understand the multiple impacts of disabilities on one’s educational and vocational success, which in turn affects one's quality of life," said Professor Gloria Lee, director of the program and principal investigator for the grant. "Our graduates receive specialized training to deal with not only the personal factors but environmental and societal factors that affect the outcomes of people with disabilities."
MSU has the highest-ranked graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling in the nation, according to “U.S. News & World Report.”
Continuing a legacy
The Office of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies at MSU has a long history of receiving grants from the Rehabilitation Services Administration, or RSA, within the U.S. Department of Education, to train new counselors.
Evin Papuga is one of the many scholarship recipients through the program's last round of RSA funding, which goes back to 2014. He is preparing to start his internship and graduate from the master's program this spring.
"The scholarship has been extremely beneficial," said Papuga, who also used the additional stipend for books, conferences and rent.
Papuga has been inspired by working side by side with faculty who are leading changes in the field. Meanwhile, he has already worked directly with people with disabilities as an employment and independent living specialist and a social coach in multiple settings.
"Looking back to about a year from today, I am honestly blown away by the knowledge I have gained, through classes and through hands-on experience," Papuga said.
Similarly, students selected to be new RSA scholars will gain on-the-job experience at one of two state agencies, and their satellite offices, that provide services to people with disabilities: Michigan Rehabilitation Services and Michigan's Bureau of Services for Blind Persons. These organizations, and others such as Peckham Inc., the Disability Network Capital Area and the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities at MSU, help students understand how to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities to achieve independence through their goals such as employment, community integration and quality of life.
"We have extremely strong partners who are supportive of our students," Lee said.
In 2017, the master's program received national accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. This means the curriculum is based on the most rigorous standards in the field. As part of the accreditation, the program is expanding from 48 to 60 credit hours starting in fall 2020.