Occupational and Life Skills degree to debut this fall at Lone Star College-Tomball

Occupational and Life Skills degree to debut this fall at Lone Star College-Tomball
Nearly 100,000 adults in Harris and Montgomery counties live with cognitive disabilities, and statistics indicate many do not have an opportunity to pursue higher education or jobs. In an effort to help increase career options, Lone Star College-Tomball officials are developing a new Occupational and Life Skills degree program that will begin enrolling students this fall.

The OLS program will focus on serving students with cognitive disabilities—individuals who have difficulty with social interaction and practical skills or those with diagnosed disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder or traumatic brain injuries. On April 9, the LSC system board of trustees approved the tuition rates for the program that will total $312 per class and $5,000 for a semester of enrollment.

“There are other programs that serve the [same] population [of students], but nothing is structured like what we’re working on with a college degree,” LSC-Tomball President Lee Ann Nutt said. “It’s [a] brand new [program] for the system and for the state.”

The four-year, 60-credit hour plan culminates in an associate degree. The program is not intended to permit transfers to four-year colleges, and students will not attend traditional college courses, Nutt said. Despite this, the program coursework will be challenging for students and focus on practical tasks, such as personal finance and nutrition, with an emphasis on refining 21st-century skills, Nutt said.

“They’re working on how to balance a checkbook, [but] what they’re really learning is the skills to be able to [understand] the checkbook,” Nutt said. “It’s not just [learning] here’s how you do this, but [it’s about] the underlying skills and abilities you need to have to be able to do that.”

LSCS trustee David Holsey said he first learned about the OLS degree during a conference last October after seeing a presentation from Bellevue College in Washington where the program originated.
“I sat through this program, and I thought, ‘I don’t care what it takes or what we have to do—we have to bring this program to Lone Star [College],’” Holsey said.

Although LSC offers open student enrollment, the OLS program will have an application process. Prospective students will need to have an IQ of at least 70; reading, writing and math skills at a fourth-grade level; and a level of self-determination, Nutt said.

“It’s going to be hard to only start with 12 [students in the program] because we’ll want to serve so many more,” Nutt said. “The plan is once we get it established here, we’ll replicate it throughout the other Lone Star College [campuses]. We know that a lot of the interest is throughout our entire system.”
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.