Largest Grant in UNC Charlotte History Expands National Center for Youth with Disabilities

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Through the largest grant in the University’s history, a pair of researchers from the UNC Charlotte Cato College of Education are expanding their national effort to improve employment, education and community integration for students and youth with disabilities.

With a five-year award of more than $20 million, the U.S. Department of Education is ramping up its investment in the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition for Students and Youth with Disabilities (NTACT) at UNC Charlotte. NTACT was created in 2015 through an initial $13 million grant directed by emeritus special education professor David Test.

NTACT assists state and local education agencies, vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and service providers in implementing practices to help students with disabilities graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment.

Catherine Fowler and Val Mazzotti from the Department and Special Education and Child Development along with center staff, including Bettie Ray Butler of the Department of Middle, Secondary, and K-12 Education are joined by a team of researchers from six universities across the country on the project.

“Disparities between in-and post-school achievement for individuals with disabilities and individuals without disabilities persist,” Mazzotti said. “A major barrier to developing more effective secondary practices is the fragmentation of existing services for students with disabilities.”

To address this, NTACT works with partners to build capacity, align systems and develop infrastructure.

“In practice, we help overcome barriers by providing resources and tools for state agencies to use with their local providers (educators, counselors, therapists), and families and students.” Fowler added. “We also provide in-person and virtual professional development on quality practices, as well as shifts in policies and procedures that can improve student outcomes.”

NTACT’s website hosts nearly 1,500 individual resources and is visited by more than 50,000 unique users annually.

“One thing that is very helpful is all of the resources that NTACT provides. Knowing that research is the basis for everything they have and they continue to develop resources and update them and make them all available online. They [also] connect us with others who are doing similar work,” said one beneficiary.

Data on the first five years of NTACT programming indicated that states that worked closely with the center:

  • Improved graduation rates for students with disabilities

  • Increased students obtaining jobs while in high school

  • Increased students participating in work-based learning experiences and other pre-employment transition services while in high school

  • Increased students with disabilities enrolling in and completing a three course sequence of Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses

“Projects like NTACT are evidence of the expanding impact researchers at UNC Charlotte are making on people’s lives across the country,” said Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development Rick Tankersley. “We also see this award as a reaffirmation of our Department of Special Education and Child Development as a national leader in the field.”

While grounded in research, NTACT also aims to be “nimble and creative” in responding to the needs and opportunities agencies and stakeholders working to improve practice and services.

“We have assembled an amazing team that will work diligently over the next five years to improve secondary services and outcomes for students and youth with disabilities,” Mazzotti said.

NTACT is a partnership between UNC Charlotte, East Tennessee State University, George Washington University, Portland State University, the University of Kansas, the University of Maryland and the University of Oregon.