Only two colleges in the United States -- Gallaudet University and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, part of the Rochester Institute of Technology -- are designed for deaf students.
Many deaf students, of course, attend other colleges and universities. And federal laws require colleges to provide assistance, including interpreters, to these students. But many students prefer Gallaudet and NTID -- learning environments where being deaf is the norm.
Paying for those colleges can be a challenge for many families. NTID estimates tuition, room and board at just under $30,000 this year. Gallaudet tuition is just under $20,000 a year for U.S. undergraduates, and room and board charges -- while variable -- make total sticker price close to that of NTID. Most in-state students at public colleges would pay much less. But many students at both institutions are supported by state agencies serving those with disabilities that recognize the educational experience for many deaf students at Gallaudet or NTID might not be replicated, even with support services, elsewhere.
In the last month, Georgia's agency announced a plan to end such support -- a move that, if it had been enacted and replicated elsewhere -- could have been a threat to many deaf students and to Gallaudet and NTID. The state said it would increase support for deaf students attending public colleges in the state but would end support for those attending Gallaudet and NTID. But as soon as the state announced it was considering the plan, deaf high school students and their parents said that such a change would essentially deny them the chance to go to colleges that were most likely to help them succeed in life.
On Thursday, Sean T. Casey, executive director of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Commission, announced that he was withdrawing the idea, based on the "heartfelt concerns" he had heard. Further, he pledged never to propose the idea in the future. "I am a making a commitment that, as long as I have the privilege of serving you in this role, I will do everything in my power to ensure all students who are eligible have access to Gallaudet and NTID," his statement said.
Gerry Buckley, president of NTID said via email that the institute was "sensitive to the pressure Georgia and other states are under to balance budgets and maintain costs." But he also said that state programs like Georgia's are essential for many students. Further, he argued that it is cost-effective for governments to invest in educating deaf students.
NTID students have access to 130 sign language interpreters, the largest staff of interpreters in higher education anywhere in the world. And they have an average of 14 years of experience. This expertise pays off in the outcomes of NTID graduates, he said.
A recent study by NTID, conducted with the Social Security Administration, found that deaf and hard-of-hearing RIT/NTID graduates have much higher salaries than deaf or hard-of-hearing students who do not attend RIT/NTID. At age 50, the median salary for an RIT/NTID deaf or hard-of-hearing graduate with a bachelor’s degree is $58,000, compared to a median salary of $21,000 for deaf and hard-of-hearing graduates of other institutions.