UMSL Succeed wins What’s Right with the Region Award from FOCUS St. Louis

UMSL Succeed students gather on the steps outside the Provincial House

The UMSL Succeed Program has been helping students with intellectual and developmental disabilities develop independent living and job skills while providing them with a college experience for 10 years. FOCUS St. Louis is honoring the program’s success with a What’s Right with the Region Award. (Photo by August Jennewein)

This fall, the Succeed Program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis will mark 10 years of providing post-secondary education to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

It has benefited more than 140 students over the past decade and received recognition for its success, including a 2020 TPSID grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the program.

What's Right with the Region Award logo

This week, FOCUS St. Louis delivered one more honor when it selected the Succeed Program for a What’s Right with the Region Award. The program was one of four honorees in the Enhancing Regional Prosperity category, which recognizes organizations or programs dedicated to the growth of the region and building a stronger workforce and economy for the benefit of all.

“UMSL and the Succeed Program have really established a model demonstration program for what going to college for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be, and that’s in inclusion in every aspect of college life,” said Jonathan Lidgus, who has served as the director of the program since 2017. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons through 10 years, but this award really recognizes the work we’re doing in the region.

“The majority of our students come from the region. Regional disability boards actually gave us grant funding to start our program. We have relationships with basically every single disability agency in the region, and especially with our school district partners, like Special School District.”

The Succeed Program joins other past What’s Right with the Region Award recipients from UMSL, including the Des Lee Collaborative Vision and Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center in 2010, the UMSL Bridge Program in 2015 and the Neighborhood Leadership Fellows program coordinated by UMSL, MU Extension and the St. Louis Promise Zone, which won an award last year.

UMSL Succeed will be honored with this year’s other What’s Right with the Region awardees at the 25th annual awards celebration on May 12 at The Sheldon in Midtown.

The program began as a two-year chancellor’s certificate program that helped college-aged students learn independent living and job skills as they enjoyed a college experience.

It has grown to include the Succeed+, which includes an additional year of experience and training and the Link Program for degree-seeking students who have earned their chancellor’s certificate through Succeed.

UMSL will soon celebrate the first Link program students to receive their degrees.

“We’re so close,” Lidgus said. “We have two seniors right now that are very close. That is going to be huge. One of the biggest hurdles for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is executive functioning or organizing and making sure you get the right support in college – and our Link program provides that to show that students can be successful in college with the correct supports there.”

Lidgus is particularly gratified to see the Succeed Program recognized in the Enhancing Regional Prosperity category.

“Individuals with disabilities, especially intellectual and developmental disabilities, typically do not have great vocational outcomes,” he said. “Their unemployment rate is extremely high.”

Data gathered before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic showed that Succeed students who completed the certificate program had a full-time employment rate of nearly 75%. The unemployment rate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is about 70%.

As with UMSL students overall, the majority of Succeed students go on to live and work in the St. Louis region.

The pandemic presented challenges to Lidgus and his team serving the students in the Succeed Program.

“COVID and virtual learning impacts this population significantly,” Lidgus said. “One of the hallmarks of our program is the deep integration in the college experience, right? So, really socialization, meeting peers, creating relationships, learning what relationships are – and that goes away significantly with virtual learning when everything shuts down.

“You see this in the general population too. But we spent a lot of time as a team with the College of Education and with the university, attempting to lessen that impact as much as possible.”

Even as much of the campus shifted to fully virtual instruction, Succeed continued in-person learning for its students. The majority of them continued living in the residence hall, and Succeed staff, in concert with the Office of Residential Life and Housing, developed programming to support the students.

There are currently 56 students who are part of the Succeed Program – including four in Succeed+ and 12 in the Link program.

With more applicants annually than they can accommodate, Lidgus and his team are doing what they can to continue to expand.

“We’re growing,” he said. “We want to grow inclusive higher education across the region and across the state and really show that students like ours, for students with intellectual development disabilities, college is an option to help them with a better quality of life.”


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