UT to reevaluate housing situation for FUTURE students

Published: Apr. 8, 2019 at 10:18 PM EDT
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Everyone has a talent which makes each of us different. One of Ben Kredich's many talents is playing the piano.

"I play several instruments," Kredich said. He's a 20 year-old in his second year at the University of Tennessee.

However, one of Ben's talents is also what sets him apart, not just from other kids his age, but from the students he studies with. Kredich is autistic, and enrolled at UT with the university's FUTURE Program. But Kredich does not live on campus, because he's not allowed to.

"I have to take the bus," Kredich said. He rides to and from school for the FUTURE Program, which is designed for students with developmental disabilities. It gives kids the opportunity to continue education after high school. Students in the program are not studying for a specific degree, but still take classes and participate in extracurricular activities.

It's currently advertised as a day program that doesn't allow students to stay in dorms at night. But that poses a big question for Ben's mom, Kim.

"Why not give them the full experience so they can be truly apart of campus?" Kim questioned. "So they can learn to live independently, which is so important."

Kim and Ben took that concern all the way to the State Senate. SB 0516, otherwise known as 'Ben's Bill', would give students in similar programs state-wide access to live in university-housing.

The bill "prohibits a post secondary program that has received the Comprehensive Transition and Post secondary Program designation from the United States department of education and is offered by an eligible post secondary institution that assists students with intellectual disabilities (an "eligible post secondary institution") from approving or denying a student residential housing on the campus of, or in affiliation with, the eligible post secondary institution solely because of the student's receipt of a Tennessee STEP UP scholarship."

Ben testified on the Senate floor in mid-March. "It means I can hang out with my friends and walk to class every morning instead of taking the bus from home," he said to the Senate Education Committee.

State Senator Becky Duncan Massey is sponsoring the bill, which passed through the Senate 26 to 4. It's now sitting in the House after representatives voted to defer the bill to summer study.

"We all have differing abilities, and we need to recognize that and let each person thrive with the abilities that they have," Sen. Becky Duncan Massey said.

Kim said, "We should celebrate the differences and the different paths that individuals will take and to make sure they can reach their potential."

After the bill, now HB 0586, moves through summer study, the house will vote sometime in next year's legislative session.

Sen. Massey said the University of Tennessee has started a pilot program for the 2019-2020 year to give students in the FUTURE Program the access to apply for university housing. The University of Tennessee released a statement on Wednesday, saying it was launching a pilot program for FUTURE students to "assess and evaluate the feasibility of housing."

“The goal of the residential pilot program is to provide FUTURE students additional opportunities to learn and practice skills to further their independence,” said David Cihak, interim associate dean of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. “It aims to give FUTURE students the full campus experience.”

According to UT, the pilot program will be available to up to 25 percent of the students in the FUTURE program and is subject to housing availability. The university said it will be open to students who have been enrolled in FUTURE for at least one year.

The university will reevaluate the program's success by March 2021.