Students on the autistic spectrum thrive in these US colleges
US colleges and autism both exist on broad spectrums. There are many different ways in which people with autism are affected by the condition. And there are so many different types of colleges in America that it can be hard to tell which one is right for you. This means that a potential student with autism may struggle to identify their ideal higher educational destination. However, there are some colleges in the USA that stand out for their commitment towards making their education accessible to any student who has autism. And this list is going to highlight those colleges.
Autism was only identified in the early 20th century. And even after its identification, it took many years for society to understand what autism is. In many ways, the world is still learning the best ways to accommodate people who have autism. But as institutions that naturally work to pave the way for the future, American colleges have some of the best autism accommodations in the world today. No one college has the perfect program or facilities to help all students with autism. But many are trying innovative and effective new approaches. Colleges that are applying these techniques with success have been specifically highlighted in this list.
Unfortunately, the colleges that do have autism programs tend to have wildly varying costs for these. Some institutions charge over $9,000 per semester. But others offer them for free. It is not readily apparent which colleges are offering the most cost-effective autism support. Therefore, this article goes out of its way to highlight the costs for any featured college autism support program. And if the college does not state these costs, then that fact is mentioned instead.
Any one of the 50 colleges below is an excellent choice for a student who has autism. However, it’s also true that every single person has their own personal circumstances that affect their ideal college choice. That means that potentially none of the colleges below is right for you. If that’s the case, then this list can still be useful. Every entry has its own detailed summary of what the college is doing to accommodate students with autism. These summaries have been included so that you can see why these colleges are great for students with autism. You can use these to contrast and compare with your own college options. If any of your college options are accommodating students like these colleges below, then that’s a sure sign that it’s the right college for you.
- America’s Top 50 Colleges For Students With Disabilities
- Education and Teaching Degree Programs
- 12 Most Affordable Doctorate Degrees in Special Education Online
- Top 50 Most Affordable Bachelor’s in Psychology Online
- 20 Most Affordable Doctorate Degrees in Education Online
- The 45 Most Affordable Graduate Programs Online
- Top 10 Online Colleges in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
- Top 10 Online Colleges in Colorado: Denver
Many of our sources have stated what colleges can do to be more appealing to people with autism. And many of our sources have listed what they consider to be the best colleges for students with autism. In that case, this article combines the results of the college lists and applies further research into what the colleges are doing to address the concerns listed in the sources. This combination of our sources and further research ensures that the colleges do indeed have the autism-friendly approaches that the sources claim.
The final list has ranked the colleges based on the following criteria in order of importance: combined mentions on the methodology lists, affordability of the autism program for students (not including general tuition fees,) evidence of innovative practices, evidence of success and commitment to future improvement.
25. Saint Joseph’s University
Students with autism who attend Saint Joseph’s University have an 85% graduation rate. This strong level of college completion is primarily thanks to the college’s Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support, which aids both students and the general population. This autism center has existed since 2009. But the college’s autism activities have been happening since long before the opening of this center, with the college’s first autism awareness day taking place in April 2004. The autism support program, ASPIRE, costs $6,000 per year. For the first time ever, the Kinney Center for Autism is expanding its college support program to virtually serve individuals with autism at campuses throughout the country. Over the past decade ASPIRE students have defied national college completion rates, boasting an 84% success rate. Collegexpress, College Autism Spectrum and Savingforcollege all recommend Saint Joseph’s University.
24. Wright State University
A current student who has participated in the Wright State University’s autism support services says this: “The challenges I ran into might have overwhelmed me if my transition coach hadn’t been there to help. […] The support group helped me simply by reminding me that I’m not an alien, and that there are others with similar problems.” The primary means of autism support at the college involves employing students as transition coaches to help students acclimatize to college life. This service costs $750 per semester in the student’s first year and $300 per semester for further years. The college’s other autism support resource is the support group, which does not have a cost. Staff members of the college’s Office of Disability Services are also trained to help students on the autistic spectrum through these programs. Collegexpress, College Autism Spectrum and College Autism Network all recommend Wright State University.
23. University of Montana
The autism program at University of Montana, named Mentoring, Organization, and Social Support for Autism/All Inclusion on Campus (MOSSAIC,) stands out because it includes speech language therapy into its support. And many of the peer mentors that help those in the program are students of the college’s School of Speech, Language, Hearing and Occupational Sciences. The costs of some of University of Montana’s autism services are not listed, but peer mentoring, social evenings, ed ready support and academic support only costs $20 per semester. Think College reports that other support services cost $130 per session. College Autism Spectrum, College Autism Network and Think College recommend this college.
22. Austin Peay State University
The seminars that are designed for students with autism at Austin Peay State University are specifically highlighted by College Autism Network as being effective. Collegexpress and College Autism Spectrum also recommend this college. Austin Peay State University’s autism program, Full Spectrum Learning, was first piloted in 2014 and officially launched in 2015. In addition to the typical peer mentoring and coaching services, this program also works with students and faculty who are not on the autistic spectrum with the aim of boosting their empathy and understanding to people who have autism. The cost for this program is $2,500, but thanks to scholarships and other funding opportunities, 100% of students involved in the program have been able to avoid paying for this themselves.
21. Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
Since 2010, Building Opportunities for Networking and Discovery (BOND) has been Michigan State University’s autism program. Its primary focus is social and communication development. Included in this program are seminars, individual meetings, peer mentoring, social outings, social events and employment outreach assistance. Many of these services are on offer every single week. Thanks to the Baldwin Foundation, BOND’s services are free for students with autism to utilize. College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress and College Autism Network all recommend Michigan State University.
20. University of North Florida
The Transition to Healthiness, Resourcefulness, Independence, Vocation, and Education (THRIVE) program at University of North Florida has been running since 2012. It began as a collaboration between the college’s Disability Resource Center and its College of Education and Human Services. Through focusing on three primary areas, social skills, independence skills and career development skills, THRIVE is able to ensure that students with autism are able to get the support that they need. No one student’s experience of THRIVE is the same, as the program tailors its levels of support to each individual. There is no extra cost for a student to participate in THRIVE. College Autism Spectrum, College Autism Network and Think College all recommend University of North Florida.
19. University of Idaho
University of Idaho’s Raven Scholars Program for students with autism has been an incredibly successful college resource since it began in 2011. Just one year after its foundation, the Raven Scholars Program won The May Dunn Ward Innovative Program Award. The program allows students to have meetings either every day or every week as well as opportunities for peer-mentoring, individual coaching, life/social skills coaching, social events, on campus coordination, advocacy and more. But perhaps the best thing about this program is that it is offered at no additional cost to students who enroll. College Autism Spectrum, College Autism Network and Savingforcollege all recommend University of Idaho.
18. Mercyhurst University
College Autism Network highlights two ways in which Mercyhurst University is excelling in assisting students with autism. One is through providing assistive technology, and the other is through organizing meal gathering groups for students with autism. Autism Speaks, College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress, Savingforcollege and Think College all also recommend the college’s autism support. Most of these sources cite Mercyhurst University’s Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst, or AIM. AIM has been running at the college since 2008. Over the course of its existence, AIM has gone from serving four students to 70 students per year. There is an annual fee for AIM, but Mercyhurst College does not reveal what it is.
17. Nova Southeastern University
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
According to College Autism Network, Nova Southeastern University’s trained residential staff and psychoeducational groups are shining examples of the kinds of services that most colleges could offer to students with autism. Four other methodology sources agree that the college is highly autism friendly. Nova Southeastern University’s dedicated program for students with autism is called Access Plus. Some of the services that this program offers are two hour dedicated study hall times with peer mentors, residential advisors, a 24 hour phone line, help with dorm room cleaning, weekend planning assistance and more. The major downside to this program is that it is highly expensive at $9,000 per semester.
16. Western Kentucky University
Bowling Green, Kentucky
The Kelly Autism Program’s Circle of Support at Western Kentucky University ensures that students with autism are given every chance to succeed by offering assistance in six specific areas. These different support initiatives comprise of offering private residence hall rooms, organizing study tables, offering mentoring, running socials, providing mental health counseling and arranging weekly advisor meetings. The cost of this program is $5,000 per semester. Autism Speaks, College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress, College Autism Network and Saving for College all recommend Western Kentucky University for students with autism.
15. University of Arkansas
Students who are enrolled into University of Arkansas’s Autism Support Programs get 15 to 20 hours per week of direct contact with academic coaches, program staff, mentors and the program’s director. This highly supportive system of operation has led to many successful graduates. In fact, the college is filled with testimonials from alumni, current students and the family members of those who have participated in the Autism Support Program. The cost for this program is $5,000 per semester. Autism Speaks, College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress, College Autism Network and Think College all recommend University of Arkansas.
14. Eastern University
St. Davids, Pennsylvania
College Autism Network highlights Eastern University’s classroom etiquette training as being a great example of the kinds of support that colleges can offer to students with autism. Autism Speaks, College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress and Savingforcollege all also highlight the college’s autism support programs. Eastern University’s College Success Program for Students Living with Autism Spectrum Disorder offers students pre-fall semester orientations; individualized coaching; weekly skills groups; weekly support groups; liaison support with faculty, staff and departments; community outings; study sessions five times a week; graduate mentors and peer mentors. However, the cost for the program is $4,000 per semester.
13. Fairleigh Dickinson University
Teaneck, New Jersey
Four different methodology sources highlight Fairleigh Dickinson University as being one of the best colleges for students with autism. Of these sources, none is more impressed than College Autism Network, which specifically highlights the college’s counseling as being exemplary for students with autism. The most encompassing area of support for students with autism at Fairleigh Dickinson University is the College’s COMPASS program. This program is available on both the college’s Metropolitan Campus and Florham Campus. Students accepted onto this program receive two hours of hands on support, one hour of counseling and one group therapy session per week. The downsides to this program are that it only admits six students per campus per year and costs $7,072 per year.
12. George Mason University
Since it launched in 2014, George Mason University’s autism program, the Mason Autism Support Initiative (MASI) has grown consistently. In its first year, it served eight students. In 2019, it served 39 students. The services on offer in this program are peer mentors, learning strategists, credit based individualized college transition classes and social events. Justin Boachie, a computer game design student who participates in the program says “It’s a program that cuts down on our mistakes and blossoms new traits out of our character.” The cost for this program is $6,600 per year. Savingforcollege, College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress, College Autism Network and Think College all recommend George Mason University.
11. Marshall University
Huntington, West Virginia
Every single methodology list except for Think College recommends Marshall University’s West Virginia Autism Training Center. US News recounts the successful experience of a particular student, who was a senior at the time of being interviewed. Savingforcollege praises the intensive level of support that counselors give to students with autism. Autism Speaks interviews the founder of the college’s West Virginia Autism Training Center, who reveals that she created the center because when it was time for her son to consider higher education, there were no resources available. In fact, Marshall University’s autism training center was the first of its kind in the entirety of the United States. Initially, the center focused on training teachers in how to teach people with autism. It has since expanded into proactively assisting the college’s own students with autism. The center’s program for students with autism initially assesses a student’s social, communication, academic, leisure and personal living skills. It then develops personalized goals and strategies based on these results. The cost of the program is $4,500 per semester and $1,500 for its summer program. There is an additional $500 fee for participation in discovery group sessions.
10. Adelphi University
Garden City, New York
Five methodology sources recommend Adelphi University’s Bridges to Adelphi Program for students with neuro-social and non-verbal disorders. Savingforcollege notes that this program is effective in making the transition to college life much easier by assigning four coaches to each student, with one each focusing on academics, learning strategies, peer issues and vocational issues. The program costs $4,435 per semester. Adelphi University is also always looking for new ways to cater for its students who have autism. For instance, in 2018, it broke new ground by opening a sensory room, with a sensory wall, soft floors, a pouch swing, beanbag chairs and low lighting. This was the first room of its kind specifically opened for students with autism at a college campus.
9. University of Tennessee, Chattanooga
Mosaic, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga’s 11 year old autism support program has a different primary component for every year of study. First year students learn about independence as well as social and study strategies. Second year students work on developing their identities, strengths and self-perceptions. Third year students focus on turning their skills and strengths into careers. And fourth year students learn to develop workplace skills. This program costs $3,500 per semester. Autism Speaks, College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress, College Autism Network and Savingforcollege all recommend University of Tennessee, Chattanooga for students with autism.
8. Rutgers University, New Brunswick
Piscataway, New Jersey
Savingforcollege, Collegexpress, College Autism Spectrum and Autism Speaks all name Rutgers University, New Brunswick as being a great college for students with autism. The college’s support program for students with autism does a number of innovative things as part of its support, such as offering workshops for the parents of the students. The yearly cost for Rutgers University, New Brunswick’s autism support program is $7,000. One extra thing that will make this college an appealing destination for students with autism is the fact that in 2018, it opened the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence, which will research and discover new ways to accommodate people with autism.
7. University of Alabama
The Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinic at University of Alabama serves both the Alabama community and currently enrolled students at the college. The clinic’s College Transition and Support program functions by staffing undergraduate and graduate students in a range of majors to help students with autism. It also works with many other college programs to ensure that its intervention and support services work for all students with autism. College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress, College Autism Network and Savingforcollege all recommend University of Alabama. The college does not currently list its cost for its autism program, but College Autism Spectrum states that it is $3,000 per semester.
6. Eastern Illinois University
College Autism Network specifically highlights Eastern Illinois University’s autism support as exceptional in many areas, including physical fitness, outings/events and training sessions. College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress and Savingforcollege also recommend Eastern Illinois University. The specific autism support program on offer at Eastern Illinois University is called Students with Autism Transitional Education Program (STEP.) Some of the advantages of this program include an early move-in to residence halls and personalized campus tours of everywhere that the students will need to visit during study. The cost for this program is $3,000 per semester. However, some students may be able to transition to a less expensive support program that costs $1,500 per semester.
5. Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, New York
In the last 11 years, enrollment in Rochester Institute of Technology’s Spectrum Support Program has increased by 700%. The current enrollment numbers are around 100 students per year. There are a number of ways to measure this program’s success, but perhaps the most impressive is the rise in students with autism who successfully participate in work experience during study. This figure increased from 66% to 75% from 2017 to 2019. Charges for the Spectrum Support Program range between $2,200 per year to $4,000 per year. Autism Speaks, College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress, College Autism Network and Savingforcollege all recommend Rochester Institute of Technology for students with autism.
4. University of West Florida
There are two programs on offer at University of West Florida that cater specifically to students with autism. One is the ASD Early Arrival Program, which takes place before the fall and spends two days giving students the skills that they need for success in transitioning to college. After college begins, then students with autism can participate in the Argos for Autism Program, which gives one on one support from coaches. Coaches focus on providing academic support, social/community involvement, transition/life skills and career preparation assistance. The early arrival program costs $150, and Argos for Autism does not have a charge. College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress, College Autism Network and Savingforcollege all recommend University of West Florida.
3. Kent State University
College Autism Network specifically highlights Kent State University’s student run autism organization as a strong example for other colleges to follow. Savingforcollege, College Autism Spectrum and Think College all also feature the college. Kent State University’s college run autism initiatives are divided into two groups. One has resources for faculty and staff, which helps these members teach students more effectively. The other has resources for students, which includes a social space, peer mentoring, psychological services and more. All of Kent State University’s autism services come at no extra charge, unless the student wants to include the peer mentoring as an opportunity to earn an experiential learning credit.
2. Bellevue College
The autism program at Bellevue College, Autism Spectrum Navigators/Neurodiversity Navigators, has been so successful that it is shaping itself as a thought leader on autism. Every year since 2015, it has hosted the Autistic Presents Symposium, which features presentations from a range of people who live and thrive with autism. In 2019, it focused on youth voices and included participants that were college students. The majority of the college’s autism services are provided at no charge, but it does have some credit cohort classes that cost $223 to $550 per quarter which count towards a student’s degree. Collegexpress, College Autism Spectrum, College Autism Network and Savingforcollege all recommend Bellevue College.
1. Drexel University
Autism Speaks notes that Drexel University’s Autism Support Program stands out because it does not require extra fees or tuition payments or disability documentation. Instead, any student who considers themselves to be on the autistic spectrum can get five hours of peer mentoring a week as well as self-advocacy and social skills workshops. US News, College Autism Spectrum, Collegexpress, College Autism Network, Savingforcollege and Think College all also praise Drexel University’s inclusive and highly accessible approach to autism support. The college’s Drexel Autism Support Program does so many things that put it ahead of other autism programs at colleges, such as partnering with other campus departments and proactively pursuing employment opportunities for students enrolled.
Our list of sources is as follows:
College Autism Spectrum, College Programs: http://collegeautismspectrum.com/collegeprograms/
U.S. News, Families: Learn How to Find Autism Friendly Colleges: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2017-11-21/families-learn-how-to-find-autism-friendly-colleges
Collegexpress, Colleges for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Very Friendly Ones: https://www.collegexpress.com/lists/list/colleges-for-students-with-autism-spectrum-disorder-the-very-friendly-ones/421/
Collegexpress, Colleges for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Friendly Ones: https://www.collegexpress.com/lists/list/colleges-for-students-with-autism-spectrum-disorder-the-friendly-ones/422/
College Autism Network, United States College Programs for Autistic Students: https://collegeautismnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Autism-College-Programs-by-College-Autism-Network.pdf
College Autism Network, Types of Support: https://collegeautismnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Types-of-Supports.pdf
Savingforcollege.com, Colleges that Cater to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: https://www.savingforcollege.com/article/colleges-that-cater-to-students-with-autism-spectrum-disorders
Autism Speaks, Postsecondary Educational Opportunities Guide: https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/2018-08/Postsecondary%20Guide.pdf
Think College, Find the College that is right for you: https://thinkcollege.net/college-search