The Vocational Independence Program (VIP) at New York Institute of Technology is a post-secondary special education program for young adults having a variety of neuro-developmental problems including Asperger's Disorder, Autism, other types of Pervasive Developmental Disorder and ADHD. The goal of the three-year program is to assist young adults to develop independence, especially the capacity to maintain employment and to interact in a socially appropriate manner with peers, neighbors, co-workers, supervisors and family.
The typical VIP student is between 18 and 22 years old, with an IQ in the 70's. (However, I was also told that there is an enormous range of intellectual abilities among VIP students, with some having IQ's in the Superior range or even higher.) Most come directly from high school, and most have been in special education programs. A few are students who have not been able to adjust to a regular college program due to either learning problems or social/emotional problems. Although VIP will take a student with a history of psychiatric or behavioral problems in addition to his/her developmental or learning disorder, the psychiatric or behavioral problem must not be the student's major or primary problem. Also, students who are actively suicidal, self-injurious or who have a substance abuse problem are not accepted at VIP.
There are essentially two tracks to the VIP program. Track I is mainly geared toward the development of vocational skills, along with social and academic skills. Students in this track take classes in practical subjects such as study skills, personal budgeting, computers, interviewing for a job, writing a resume, etc. These non-credit classes take place in a separate VIP building and are taught by VIP faculty. Students in Track II are in a pre-college, academic program. They take classes similar to those in Track I, also in the separate VIP building, although they may also register for a limited schedule of credit classes at NYIT. Track I and II students interact with each other continuously, and the distinctions between the two groups are not at all rigid. In fact, according to individual needs, students may move from one track to another. A very small number of Track II students have gone on to graduate from college.
All VIP students have internships which are arranged by the program. Much of the focus of the second and third years is devoted to vocational training and cooperative education. Students are placed at a variety of job sites including those dealing with child care, food service and hospitality, retail and clerical work. In addition to their work experiences, upper level students are encouraged to develop other independent living skills such as personal cooking, shopping and food preparation. All students are provided with an individualized program that, in addition to class work and internship, includes weekly individual meetings with various counselors, including vocational, social, academic and independent living counselors. Families may also contract for additional fee-based professional services such as psychotherapy, speech/language therapy, etc.
The VIP residential program is designed to offer students a good deal of freedom, with back-up support available, in order to provide an experience as close as possible to that of a residential college. VIP students must live on campus in one of the dormitories that is dedicated to the VIP program. The dormitories are mixed gender with separate male and female floors; there are rules regarding the presence of boys in girls' areas and vice versa. The dorms are fairly typical for a traditional type of college dorm, with a mix of single and double rooms. The single room that I viewed was fairly spacious, and I noticed that the young man living in the room kept it neater than just about any boy's dorm room I've ever observed either in a college or boarding school. I was told that the buildings housing both the dormitories and the classrooms are about 100 years old, though, of course, they have undergone some renovation over the years.
The dorms are supervised by a staff of residential advisors who live in the dorms and, in typical college dorm fashion, are upper level college undergraduate or graduate students (mainly from NYIT, though occasionally also from other nearby colleges). The residential advisors are supervised by the VIP program's director of residential life, currently a woman who was formerly a residential director at NYIT's mainstream college program. The residential office in each dorm is staffed during waking hours and, of course, the residential advisors are on-call 24 hours a day. The advisors organize evening and weekend activities, which include on-campus clubs and off-campus trips. Attendance at these activities is typically voluntary, as is attendance at the nightly supervised study hall, although in certain circumstances, a student may be required to attend study hall. There is a full-time nurse on staff during the days.
On my visit to VIP, I met with Bill Russell, the director of academics and the chair of the admissions committee. Mr. Russell, who has been at VIP about ten years, impressed me as being knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the program. He interacted easily with students that we passed as we walked around the campus. All of the VIP students that we met seemed to know him, and most called him by his first name. Both the first year students and the upper level students that I met seemed to be comfortable in their surroundings and at ease with each other. I did not notice the VIP students interacting with the other, mainstream students on the campus or in the dining hall, although in my experience it is not unusual for the students from one program within a university to have little interaction with students from another program. Bill Russell assured me that, although they had their own coffee bar type lounge in one of the VIP buildings, the VIP students were not shy about using any of the facilities on the larger campus.
VIP has been in existence for over twenty years. It had a significant change in leadership about three years ago. The program is located at the Central Islip campus of NYIT, which is a satellite campus of the main university. The main campus is located about 30-45 minutes away, in Old Westbury. The Central Islip campus of NYIT, which is on the grounds of a former state psychiatric hospital in suburban Long Island, New York, also houses the university's nursing school and its culinary arts program. VIP's buildings are not fully handicapped accessible; I was told that there are plans to make them fully accessible. The VIP program itself does not have any sort of separate license or accreditation, although NYIT is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
Stephen Migden, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist and educational consultant who specializes in the needs of adolescents and young adults with learning, developmental or behavioral problems. He is the East Coast Liaison for Woodbury Reports. His office is located in Roslyn Heights, NY, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.psychologicalandeducationalservices.com.