Jaggar DeMarco: Want a winning idea? Move disability studies online

Anything branded with the name “Innovation Task Force” is going to elicit yawns. But GW is trying to galvanize enthusiasm for this four-year-old project to find new ways to make or save money for the University.

Now, GW has created a competition for students, where the team or individual with the best idea to generate at least $1 million a year in savings or revenue will get a $50,000 scholarship.

It’s pretty daunting to come up with a plan of that magnitude. But here’s a winning proposal: Start an online program for disability studies.

The University has decided that starting online programs can bring in dollars, but this is a way to tie a money-based competition to a social good.

GW already has a strong multi-disciplinary disability studies program for graduate students, and it offers some classes for undergraduates as well, focusing on areas like education, literature, public policy and even law. The introduction to disability studies course is at full capacity this year, as good reviews of the discipline spread by word of mouth.

The City University of New York offers an online bachelor’s degree in disability studies. But other schools in the Northeast with strong disability programs like Syracuse and Temple universities haven’t yet made the jump online. GW has a chance to be the first.

As a person with a physical disability who has chosen to attend a four-year University, I am familiar with the challenges of moving away from home to go to school. While I made this decision, I have empathy for my friends who ultimately decided not to go away even though they have the intellectual capacity.

Some feel safer taking classes at a community college and living at home, while others give up on higher education altogether. For some physically disabled students, attending college classes in person isn’t even possible.

Our school has the opportunity to make a difference. Students with physical disabilities who continue to be limited and excluded from attending a four-year university could now pursue higher education in a way that suits their personal needs.

We already know that the University has demonstrated a commitment to expanding the face-to-face program by recently hiring a full-time faculty member to teach disability studies courses – which includes physical, cognitive and sensory impairments – in the English department. The hope is that it could become an undergraduate major or minor within the next few years.

Moving these programs online is a logical next step.

For those physically disabled students who are interested in getting an education, more online courses would have great benefits.

“Many disabled people still find their mobility greatly restricted, and online courses bring the university to their worlds, while the alternative of coming to a university campus still remains riddled with difficulties,” professor David Mitchell, who teaches the English department’s introduction to disability studies course, told The Hatchet.

But online education in disability studies would certainly not be limited to physically disabled students. In fact, it would help educate the wider population about this underrepresented part of the population.

So how does offering disability studies online help GW’s bottom line? Due to District regulations, there is a cap on the number of students who are allowed to live on campus. This means the University has a finite amount of tuition revenue. By expanding online courses, GW can tap into a larger population of paying students who will never have to set foot on GW’s campus.

The University already projected it could bring in $2.5 million by adding online college courses for high school students and $3.3 million from service members and veterans taking online engineering courses.

Adding disability studies courses to GW’s online portfolio sounds like a win-win situation that administrators can’t afford to pass up.

The writer is a sophomore majoring in political communication.

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