, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 431-450

Understanding the Policy Context for Supporting Students with Psychiatric Disabilities in Higher Education

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Abstract

Interest in postsecondary education for persons with psychiatric disabilities is high among consumers and advocates. However, the existence of program supports for higher educational goals is very uneven across U.S. states. This study was designed to examine the policy context in which states and educational institutions address needs of individuals with psychiatric disabilities to attend and succeed in postsecondary education. In 10 selected states, telephone interviews were conducted with key informants in state agencies of mental health, vocational rehabilitation, and higher education, as well as representatives of state-level advocacy organizations. Additionally, a search of websites relevant to state policy was conducted. The findings identify factors that facilitate and inhibit the development of policy and programs supportive of students with psychiatric disabilities. Facilitating factors include a strong community college system, progressive philosophy of the state mental health agency, and interest of consumers and the advocacy community. Inhibiting factors include political and budgetary uncertainty, competing priorities in the mental health system, emphasis on a medical rather than rehabilitative model, regulations of the VR system, and lukewarm enthusiasm of the advocacy community. Implications for community mental health services are included, particularly related to further policy development in support of students with psychiatric disabilities.