Community, Education

WVU Country Roads Program prepares students for independence

West Virginia University’s Country Roads Program is seeking new applicants.

The program strives to prepare students with disabilities for independence through academic courses, work experiences and social engagement opportunities.

Professor of Pediatrics and director of the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities Dr. Lesley Cottrell said the Country Roads Program is approaching its one-year anniversary and the first cohort of five students is about to finish the spring semester.

During its first year, the program received nine applications. Five of those applicants were accepted.

“The program was designed for a couple of reasons. The larger goal is to provide additional options for people with either intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. Those options really focus on extended workplace development and higher education opportunities. That’s regardless of the type of graduation or the type of degree they received from high school,” she said.

Individuals enrolled in the program shared residential housing arrangements. During their first year in the program, individuals can work on-campus jobs and can later accept off-campus job opportunities.

Cottrell said the program is interactive. In addition to taking core Country Roads curricula, individuals in the program audit classes at WVU that they may want to take if they enroll in the program’s four-year, higher education track and socialize with other WVU students.

Students enrolled in the Country Roads Program also work to strengthen their interview skills and learn about the various occupations and careers available to them.

Cottrell said higher education opportunities for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are limited in number and in nature.

The search for higher education opportunities for individuals with intellectual and/or development disabilities often falls on those individuals and their families, she said.

“While we have programs throughout the nation that are developed to provide that opportunity, West Virginia – Marshall [University] had one that’s focused on individuals who have autism spectrum disorder – but for intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, this is the first program,” Cottrell said.

The program offers both two-year and four-year structural options to students, though students are permitted to switch tracks at any point.

Cottrell said the two-year version of the program provides students with certifications that strengthen their applications for work and focuses less on engagement in the credit-hour field and more on preparing students for the workforce.

The four-year track allows for students to audit and enroll in WVU courses and to earn a degree of their choosing.

“The first two years, they’re also getting those certifications and workplace development and experiences living on their own or with others their age in dorms, and later apartments, and that’s valuable. But then they can decide to continue and start enrolling in credit and earning that degree, if they choose,” Cottrell said.

While the program was tuition-free its first year since it was conducted remotely, students now enrolling will be expected to pay tuition and fees amounting to $25,592 per year. Opportunities for financial aid can be evaluated after the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The program places emphasis on students who are West Virginia residents, but does accept out-of-state students. The maximum cohort for each year is limited to eight students.

The application deadline for the WVU Country Roads Program is April 1.

Accepted students will begin their on-campus experience Aug. 18.

For more information on the WVU Country Roads Program, visit