Georgia College Opens THRIVE Inclusive Post Secondary Education in Milledgeville

Georgia College and State University is preparing to open the newest inclusive post secondary education (IPSE) this spring. Known as IPSE, inclusive college, like Georgia College’s THRIVE, is gaining in popularity throughout the state–and the country. There are now 309 IPSE programs in the U.S. with THRIVE being Georgia’s ninth program.

Nicole M. DeClouette, Ph.D., is a professor of special education and interim associate dean at the John H. Lounsbury College of Education at Georgia College. As a doctoral student, she worked for an IPSE at Syracuse University in New York and saw the impact IPSE had on the lives of people with disabilities. In 2018, while working at Georgia College, DeClouette attended a two-week Women in Higher Education Leadership Institute in Denver. When the institute tasked participants to develop a project to implement at their home universities, she decided to bring IPSE to Georgia College.

When she returned to Georgia College, she connected with Think College and the Georgia Inclusive Postsecondary Education Consortium (GAIPSEC) and began building THRIVE.

Georgia College received both an exploration grant and an implementation grant through Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) from the U.S. Department of Education to create THRIVE. This support allowed them to temporarily hire a part-time program director to assist in program development.

THRIVE hopes to start their two-year program with 2-3 students in early-2023. They plan to add residential opportunities in the future so that students from across the state can attend Georgia College. In the meantime, the program will be open to serve local students in the Milledgeville-area.

THRIVE students will choose their education pathways giving them a true liberal arts experience. As the state’s designated public liberal arts college, Georgia College will expose THRIVE students to a broad range of educational opportunities. The ultimate goal of any college program, including IPSEs like THRIVE, is employment for their graduates.

“Georgia College is small enough that it’s personable. The community is special—there is a family-like atmosphere,” says DeClouette.

Aside from THRIVE, Georgia College has a well-established GC Journeys Program, which requires that all Georgia College students participate in five “transformative learning experiences” by the time they graduate. GC Journeys includes three required experiences plus two additional experiences chosen by the student. The required experiences are First Year Experience, career planning milestones, and a capstone course. Additional experiences for students to choose from include intensive leadership experiences, mentored undergraduate research, community-based engaged learning, internships, and study abroad.

Once THRIVE is established and expanded, it will incorporate the full GC Journeys Program as part of the curriculum.

“At Georgia College, I hope to get this program off the ground and ready to give students the life opportunities that so many others take for granted,” said DeClouette.

I hope legislators and community leaders recognize that these programs have a feel-good component to them, but that’s not the focus. The focus is on the skills to get jobs where people with disabilities can lead a meaningful life, drive their own car, live where they want, and contribute to the economy.

DeClouette recognizes the contrast of the THRIVE program at Georgia College with local history. Milledgeville is home to what is now known as Central State Hospital, which was once the largest residential mental health hospital in the country with 12,000 residents and 6,000 employees. After decades of advocacy for deinstitutionalization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Central State Hospital has largely downsized and now serves approximately 200 patients.

Many of the residents that left Central State Hospital through deinstitutionalization still reside in Milledgeville and are served by community-based supports, and Georgia College regularly partners with the local disability community. The establishment of an IPSE at Georgia College is a natural progression.

“It’s important to see where these students may have lived 50-60 years ago versus now, receiving education and skills so they can live and work in the community,” said DeClouette.

This piece is another in our Include College series of articles highlighting Georgia’s IPSE programs.