Suburban college offers specialized program

July 16, 2009 10:07:57 AM PDT
College is a dream for many teenagers. For some individuals with disabilities, attending a four-year program has not been possible-- until a small suburban college created one. Elmhurst College created a four-year program called ELSA, Elmhurst Life Skills Academy. It promotes independent living for young adults with disabilities.

"It taught me more independence, and I do things for myself," said Patrick Hartmann.

Hartmann is one of the first graduates of the ELSA program. Patrick started at a community college.

"And then I found out about the ELSA program and I liked it here better. It was a better fit for me," said Hartmann.

Jennifer Gans is another ELSA student who recently graduated.

"Give me a chance to have new challenges, experience new things that I've never experienced before," said Gans.

ELSA is a four-year college experience program for students with disabilities who can not achieve in a regular academic curriculum.

Tim Ahlberg is the program director. He says they focus on three different elements.

"An academic piece, an employment pieces and a social and recreation piece which is essentially college life," said Ahlberg.

ELSA students do not live on campus but are encouraged to be involved in as many activities as possible.

"We have about 35 students right now, and essentially they have to graduate from a high school program, and we usually ask they have a minimum of a third grade academics and that they wanna be in the program. From there we decide admission based on interviews," Ahlberg said.

The cost is the same as one-year of college at Elmhurst.

"We're looking at around $24,500 a year," Ahlberg said.

After four years here, Jennifer's dad sees positive results.

"The growth that we've seen both academically and socially, she's just becoming an adult," said Bob Gans.

To learn more about Elmhurst College's ELSA program go to