COLUMBIA -- Donald Alston Bailey jumped out of bed one day last week, grabbed his backpack and headed to his first class of the day at the University of South Carolina.
It was a swimming class to help him train for a triathlon.
His next class was in a computer lab in the campus' education building. Then he went to his internship at the YMCA.
Bailey, 21, is a typical college student, except for one thing: He's intellectually disabled. He's enrolled in a special program called Carolina Life, which is designed for students with such disabilities who want to learn to successfully live independently, improve their job skills and experience college life.
USC is one of four South Carolina universities offering study programs this year for students with intellectual disabilities. The others are Clemson, Coastal Carolina and Winthrop universities. The College of Charleston is holding a kick-off event Thursday for a program that will begin in the fall.
Cynthia May, a psychology professor at the College of Charleston and one of the leaders of the school's new program, said it will be a four-year, "fully integrated" program that "challenges students at their own levels."
The program, like others in the state, will allow students to enroll in some classes with mainstream college students, and it will offer some separate independent living and vocational classes. Students also will have the option of living on campus, May said.
Proponents of on-campus programs for students with intellectual disabilities say they help disabled students learn to function better in the world and traditional students to learn more about people with disabilities.
Bailey's father, who also is named Donald, said research indicates that students who complete even one year in programs on college campus are more likely to land better and higher-paying jobs.
The elder Bailey, a Mount Pleasant resident and former member of USC's
Board of Trustees, helped get the programs off the ground.
Bailey said he's been promoting the programs for the past five years, including bringing in start-up money from the state Legislature. His efforts began when his son was 16 and Bailey realized there weren't many educational and vocational options open to him.
Legislators have been very supportive of the programs, Bailey said. They have contributed $155,000 in start-up money to most of them. The money passes through Bailey's nonprofit organization, College Transition Connections, to the schools.
At USC last week, the younger Bailey attended a class called portfolio development.
Instructor Laura Chezan conducted and digitally recorded mock job interviews with students. The students learned what to expect from jobs interviews and had practice answering the types of questions they likely will be asked.
Students will place the recordings in their portfolios, along with other assignments, Chezan said.
Les Sternberg, dean of USC's College of Education who has a background in special education, said, "I'm a cheerleader for this kind of stuff."
"Everything that's offered to the non-disabled student should be offered to the disabled as well," Sternberg said. "Not only is it the right thing to do, it helps students become more employable."
Donald Bailey said the only downside to the programs is the cost. For example, students in the College of Charleston programs will pay $8,000 per semester, much higher than the tuition rate for traditional college students.
But, Bailey is hoping that will change soon. Lower-income students will be eligible for federal PELL grants next year, and some might be able to bring in stipends from vocational agencies, he said. And he's working on landing federal grant money that might reduce tuition at all programs, as well as continually trying to bring in private donations for scholarships.
But he's impressed with the programs' growth and expansion so far. "It's phenomenal," he said.
Many people and groups were excited about and ready to launch the programs, he said. "We were at the right place at the right time. What's going to be really interesting is watching them grow," he said.