New grant provides college access to individuals with intellectual disabilities

Ann Fullerton and Susan Bert

Ann Fullerton and Susan Bert

For the first time in Oregon, individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) will have access to an inclusive university experience. A $2.5 million, five-year grant from the US Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education will create a college program that enrolls students with ID in regular PSU classes and culminates in the certification of skills for eventual employability and adult life. Ann Fullerton and Susan Bert, faculty in the Graduate School of Education, are co-directors of the project. Ruth Falco, Director, Research Center on Inclusive and Effective Educational Practices, was instrumental in bringing partners together for the project and in writing the grant proposal, and will serve as the project evaluator. The Think College Inclusion Oregon (TCIO) project is the first of its kind at a four-year university in Oregon.

“For many young adults, college is a path to independent living and preparation for employment in a chosen career area. Traditionally, individuals with intellectual disabilities have been excluded from the college experience, when college can be a critical step toward their success as adults,” said Fullerton.

PSU faculty and staff will design a program that provides inclusive college coursework, the option to live on campus, and preparation for future employment. The grant also provides academic advising and other academic support to help ensure students with ID are successful in their individualized college experiences. The plan is for 35 TCIO students to participate. The project will start small and focus on building capacity over five years.

“As a recipient of a Model Demonstration Grant, the goal is to develop and evaluate a model that can be a blueprint for other higher education institutes in the state,” said Fullerton.

The TCIO project is a partnership among PSU and the TCIO Coalition/Northwest Down Syndrome Association (NWDSA)/All Born (In), the Portland Public Schools (PPS) Community Transition Program, the Oregon Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Community Vision Inc., the Oregon Department of Human Service’s Employment First Initiative, and the Oregon Office of Developmental Disability Services.

The TCIO Coalition/Northwest Down Syndrome Association/All Born (In), a coalition of middle and high school students, families, and education professionals, and PSU faculty developed a vision of college over the past two years. Executive Director Angela Jarvis-Holland of NWDSA/All Born (In) said, “All Born (In) and NWDSA are proud of the work of the coalition and the strong commitment to equity PSU has. This grant means that our youth advocates, with and without disabilities, who led and inspired our work can now look forward to attending college together—that’s a great day for PSU and a first for Oregon.”

PSU’s Graduate School of Education and the Portland Public Schools Community Transition Program have collaborated for over 20 years to create a place at PSU for 18–21-year-old students in that program. Michelle Markle, principal of the Community Transition Program, described how the new grant expands that partnership beyond a transition program: “While the PPS Community Transition Program will stay intact, for students who are admitted to PSU through this grant, we will be able to partner in a new way. PPS transition–eligible students co-enrolled in PSU will be navigating a whole new system: choosing classes, signing up for clubs, and juggling school and work schedules. We will be there to help students transition to those next steps on a new path, and that’s really exciting.”

Keith Ozols of the Oregon Department of Vocational Rehabilitation said, “This is a very exciting opportunity for our state and education systems to develop model programs for students with intellectual disabilities accessing postsecondary education. TCIO will give students the opportunity to attend college and explore real higher education and career pathways that can lead to competitive integrated employment in our community. Vocational Rehabilitation is a key partner in helping these students realize their true potential, and we look forward to this exciting opportunity.”

Community Vision Inc. will provide expertise in creating inclusive supports for community living on and off campus. Joe Wykowski, executive director, said: “Everyone deserves the opportunity to attend college. Portland becomes a better place to live when a diverse student body has the opportunity to share their gifts and talents with each other on campus and within the city of Portland.”

Within PSU, the TCIO project involves the Graduate School of Education, the Department of Special Education, and University Studies, PSU’s award-winning general education program for undergraduates. Maurice Hamington, executive director of University Studies, said, “I am thrilled that University Studies is participating in the Think College Inclusion Oregon project. Everything about TCIO fits with our learning objectives of social justice and diverse inclusion. This is a wonderful program for the participants, as well as for the growth of the PSU community.”

The PSU Universal Design Lab (ULab) in the Graduate School of Education will support students in the use of assistive technology for learning and employment. Samuel Sennott, ULab director and assistant professor of special education, said, “As the TCIO project expands PSU’s capacity to educate a wider range of learners, ultimately all PSU students can benefit.”

“The Think College Inclusion Oregon Project has the potential to be truly transformative for our community, families, students, and university,” said Randall De Pry, chair of the Department of Special Education.

To learn more about the TCIO project, email


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