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TJ Swift House A.S.C.E.N.D. program fees waived for 2 years


Area students eligible for the TJ Swift House A.S.C.E.N.D. Program at Missouri State University-West Plains will not have to pay the program fee for the next two academic years.

Mikala King, director of the program, said the fees for the 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 academic years will be covered with funds from a $1.5 million grant from U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, which was awarded to MSU-WP’s transition program for autistic students in July 2023.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer this opportunity to our students,” King said. “We know of several students who would benefit from this program but are unable to pay the program fee. These funds will give them the financial ability to achieve their educational goals and dreams.”

Students who enroll in the TJ Swift House A.S.C.E.N.D. program are charged a $3,000 per semester program fee on top of normal tuition and fees. The program fee covers the costs of specific materials and additional staff needed to support the students on their educational journey.

Although many students are eligible for grants and funds from vocational rehabilitation programs and other federal student aid programs to cover the costs of their college education, those funds only apply to tuition and fees, King said; they cannot be used for the program fee.

“Thanks to this grant, students and their families will not have to worry about finding the additional funding to participate in our program,” she said.

Grant money will fund other needs

Other funds from the grant will be used to expand the TJ Swift House A.S.C.E.N.D. Program. Money will be used to hire additional staff and purchase needed equipment for the new Center for Autism and Neurodiversity currently under construction.

“Our goal is to have a 1-to-10 ratio between our support staff and A.S.C.E.N.D. students. We feel this ratio gives students the best amount of support without overwhelming our staff,” King explained.

Funds also will be used to develop two new degree options — the Associate of Arts in Teaching-Autism Specialist Paraprofessional and Associate of Arts in General Studies-Psychology/Autism — which will prepare students for careers that provide support for autistic and neurodiverse students at all levels. 

Program benefits other neurodiverse students

King said the TJ Swift House A.S.C.E.N.D. Program isn’t just for autistic students. Those who have been diagnosed with other neurological disorders also could benefit from enrolling in the program.

“Although autism is our primary focus, we do accept students with other neurodiverse diagnoses such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, sensory processing disorders, etc.,” she said. “These students will be accepted on a case-by-case basis. We want the supports we offer to help anyone with neurocognitive challenges.” 

Still time to apply

Area residents interested in applying to the TJ Swift House A.S.C.E.N.D. Program this fall can still do so. “We are still accepting applications and will be having two open houses for those who are interested in the program,” King said.

The first is a virtual open house set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 14. The second is an in-person open house scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. March 23 in room 102 of the Lybyer Technology Center.

Both will provide students and their families with an overview of the university, the program and its services and an introduction to program and admissions staff.

Those who attend the in-person open house will have the opportunity to tour the MSU-WP campus and hear parent testimonials, King said.

“According to a 2018-2019 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there were only 74 college autism programs in the United States, and most of them were at four-year universities. We are very lucky to have a program at MSU-WP that offers a great start for these students’ journeys through college.”

For more information about the TJ Swift House A.S.C.E.N.D. Program or the upcoming open houses, visit WP.MissouriState.edu/A.S.C.E.N.D. or call 417-255-7711.