UA, state receive largest-ever federal research grant

The University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Education were awarded a $32 million federal grant for a program aimed at improving the education and career outcomes of low-income Arkansas teenagers with disabilities.

The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education is the largest research grant the UA has ever received.

The federal program, known as PROMISE (Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income), is aimed at youths who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). According to a news release, a total of 2,000 adolescents between the ages of 14 and 16 who receive SSI disability checks will be recruited for the project, half of which will receive job coaching and benefits counseling. The other half will serve as a control group that does not receive any intervention.

Officials hope to prove that placing students in jobs and increasing communication between youth agencies will help decrease their reliance on SSI, and reduce the cost to the federal government.

“Most of us in the competitive workplace had a first entry-level job or internship at the beginning of our work lives,” said Brent T. Williams, UA associate professor of rehabilitation education and research. “That experience, good or bad, was instrumental in our later workplace success.”

Williams, who will oversee the project at the UA, said adolescents who receive Social Security disability benefits typically do not have a first job or internship experience. As such, he said they remain cut off from the world of work.

Arkansas was one of five individual states that received funding along with California, Maryland, New York and Wisconsin. A consortium of six states – Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Colorado and Arizona – also received funding.