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Grant program aims to support young adults with learning differences and autism

The demand for experiential learning and independent living opportunities for young adults with special needs is on the rise.

Sponsored by Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield), HF1972 would create a competitive grant program for postsecondary institutions that serve students with autism and learning differences to, in turn, make these educational opportunities more affordable.

It was held over by the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF2053, awaits action by the Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City) is the sponsor.

In previous sessions, the Legislature has provided an annual $1 million direct appropriation to Minnesota Independence College and Community. It helps young adults with learning differences develop independent living skills, social and emotional skills, career skills and find employment.

“At MICC we provide an opportunity for these young adults to completely change the trajectory of their lives,” explained Ben Lentz, director of advancement.

Howard said that through consultation with MICC and the Office of Higher Education, the bill seeks to appropriate $3 million in additional funds during the 2022-23 biennium for these opportunities, and to expand the program to other institutions that serve these students.

“If we’re truly going to support this program and support students across the state, this really is a modest investment in the scope of our state budget and one that makes a ton of sense on so many levels,” Howard said.

To be eligible, organizations would need to provide a residential campus experience and ongoing post-graduate career and community support. The grant dollars would need to be used to provide students with need-based scholarships or tuition reduction. The competitive grant process and awards would be administered by the office.

Grant recipients would be required to provide an annual report to the office and the Legislature outlining how the grant was used, along with information about student outcomes, number of students served by the grant and average amount of scholarship or tuition reduction. 

Lentz applauded the proposal. “We support, wholeheartedly, adding additional funds to serving this population of students because the demand is growing at a staggering level.” 

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