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May 31, 2003

Federal Funding Lets Deaf Students Attend College

From: Winchester Star, VA - May 31, 2003

By Andrew Martel
The Winchester Star

More than seven in 10 deaf or hearing impaired students drop out of college before receiving a degree, according to Galludet University in Washington, D.C.

But federal funding is being used in Virginia to better those odds.

Four such students just completed their first year as students in the Virginia Community College System and as participants in a program that combines distance learning technologies and on-site assistance.

VCCS has received $658,365 from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education for the program, called Project Higher Education Access and Retention (HEAR).

These four students lived and studied at the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Staunton. They took courses via video in real time, with instructors and tutors on site to assist them.

Assignments are faxed to professors at their colleges at either Tidewater Community College, Northern Virginia Community College, or Thomas Nelson Community College.

No Lord Fairfax Community College students participated this year, but the program is open to them, said VCCS spokeswoman Susan Hayden.

These students often struggle at the college level because of a lack of support services, Hayden said.

The goal of the program is to provide more "synchronous courses," which connects students to the classroom with audio and visual equipment as the class is being taught, said Roberto Benavides, VCCS Coordinator for Students with Disabilities. At the same time, tutors, counselors, and other personnel would be available at the Woodrow Wilson Center to assist them.

"It actually turned out better than we thought," Benavides said. "We were able to learn what students prefer in the design of this project."

Benavides said the program gave the students confidence.

The four students all took the same courses, which were core, or first-year, courses. They actually all have different interests and will branch out into their own fields next year, Benavides said.

While the federal funding is only for the first three years, Benavides said he hopes this will be a permanent program with continued funding and expanded services.

"Who knows, we may be able to open up opportunities for other disabilities," he said.

For next year, Project HEAR will expand to include student services beyond the classroom, including tutoring, counseling, and social advocacy skills and study skills.

Benavides said he hopes to see the maximum 15 students enrolled in the program next year.

"I am already starting to get referrals from across the state," he said.

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