On April 10, the University of Tennessee announced a new pilot program “to assess and evaluate the feasibility of access to university housing by FUTURE program students” that will begin in the fall. This may not sound like a bombshell to most people, but it’s something Ben Kredich and his family have been working on for more than a year.
Ben has been getting up every morning and riding the bus to the UT campus to go to class. One of his UT FUTURE classmates drives himself to and from the UT campus – a 90-minute round-trip. The UT FUTURE Postsecondary Education Program offers students with intellectual disabilities and autism the opportunity to take a variety of classes and earn a vocational certificate, and Ben has thrived in the college atmosphere – except for one thing.
He isn’t allowed to live in student housing, despite the fact that FUTURE students pay full tuition and fees, plus an additional $5,000.
Ben, who is 20 and has autism, lives at home with his parents, Kim and Matt Kredich, and his younger brother, Coleman, a senior at West High School. Coleman will attend Duke University next year, and Ben’s twin brother, Miles, is a sophomore at Savannah College of Art and Design. Matt is UT’s swimming coach, and Kimberley, who has a master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music, has put a career as a conductor aside to become a full-time volunteer advocate for students with disabilities.
Ben has taken a wide variety of classes at UT – geography, political science, history of rock ’n’ roll – and studies piano with Dr. David Brunell. He has also completed required FUTURE courses in digital literacy and career & life planning.
But more than anything, he wants the opportunity to live independently in campus housing, just like other students.
Last fall, Miles started a Change.org petition aimed at persuading the UT administration to allow his brother (and other FUTURE students) the opportunity to live on campus. It got more than 3,300 signatures in one week.
Kim Kredich has long argued that allowing FUTURE students to live on campus shouldn’t be such a big deal since students enrolled in the Volunteer Bridge Program take classes and pay tuition at Pellissippi State Community College yet may live in UT student housing. She supports the Volunteer Bridge Program and says FUTURE students should be given equal access.
This winter, state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, who spent decades advocating for adults with disabilities as director of the Sertoma Center, sponsored a bill requiring colleges not to deny access to university housing based solely on participation in programs like UT FUTURE.
Massey successfully shepherded Ben’s Bill through the Senate, but it stalled in the House, despite the best efforts of sponsor Rick Staples, and has been consigned to a summer study committee, which is usually a polite legislative death sentence.
That may not be the case this time. Although Ben’s Bill and the good will of interim UT President Randy Boyd have provided the leverage to win her son the opportunity to live on campus, Kim says she’s not going to stop working on it.
“I’m not in this just for my own kid,” she said. “This bill paves the way for all students like Ben to have the potential of accessing dorm housing.”