Missouri State Program for Autistic Students to Expand Thanks to Donation

The Missouri State University-West Plains program is aimed at helping autistic students make the transition to college.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on November 20, 2023
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Image Credit: Missouri State University-West Plains
  • ASCEND, established in 2022, helps autistic students make the jump to college.
  • A local organization announced support for the program.
  • The Missouri community college has not yet announced specific uses for the gift.

A Missouri community college will increase its investment in a program aiding autistic students' transition to college.

Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) and the Missouri State University Foundation announced Nov. 7 that the college received a new donation from TJ Swift House. Funds from that donation will be used to support the Autism Support Can Empower New Directions (ASCEND) program for autistic students, the institution said in a statement.

The program will now be referred to as the TJ Swift House ASCEND Program.

"To come this far in so short a time is a testament to two things: First, the overwhelming need for this kind of a program and, second, the great trust and generosity of people like Tracey Hollis, her family, and those who have contributed toward making this program and facility truly special for our autistic students," MSU-WP Chancellor Dennis Lancaster said in a statement.

The program supports autistic students enrolling in college for the first time and pursuing an associate degree at MSU-WP.

Mikala King, director of ASCEND, told BestColleges that ASCEND's primary focus is autistic students, but the program will sometimes accept students with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and sensory processing disorders.

Students who are a part of the program must be independent enough to attend classes on their own, but a disability service office on campus helps provide accommodations, King said.

MSU-WP's ASCEND program provides one-on-one counseling, tutoring, and a separate ASCEND class to help autistic students make the transition to higher education.

The college announced the program in April 2022.

TJ Swift House provides services to individuals with disabilities, as well as their families, in the West Plains community, according to MSU-WP. The organization is contracted through the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Co-owner Tracey Hollis-Cooper said the organization regularly works with children who could benefit from the ASCEND program, which inspired TJ Swift House to donate.

"We take care of a lot of children who are referred to us," Hollis-Cooper said in the statement. "Many of them who complete high school have the intellectual capability to continue their education but not the support system they need to go to college. This program is an answer to prayer for so many of them."

King said TJ Swift House's gift will "provide support to the area(s) of greatest need for this program, as determined by the chancellor of MSU-West Plains."

A growing number of colleges and universities have instituted support programs for college students with intellectual disabilities or standalone programs explicitly aimed at educating these students. BestColleges previously reported that the number of higher education programs supporting students with an intellectual disability has more than doubled since 2009.

ASCEND, however, doesn’t entirely fit into this category of program. Many autistic people do not have an intellectual disability.