Building Capacity for State and Regional Alliances

What is a regional alliance? To us, a regional alliance is a collective of states who come together with the shared goal of supporting and expanding inclusive postsecondary education opportunities in their geographic region as well as offer more accessible professional development opportunities. State alliances connect state agencies and state-level constituents, create a learning community, and provide shared funding opportunities. Regional and state alliances are important to the sustainability and expansion of college options for people with intellectual disability as alliances facilitate opportunities for peer-to-peer learning activities, such as collaborative research and shared practice. These alliances help build community and momentum among inclusive postsecondary education programs within states and regions.

This past October, the Think College Network partnered with the 2022 State of the Art Conference on Inclusive Postsecondary Education and Individuals with Intellectual Disability (SOTA) to host a pre-conference capacity building institute aimed at developing and expanding state and regional alliances. Those interested in building or strengthening their state alliances or being involved in future regional alliances were invited to join us. Over 50 people from 20 states attended the pre-conference in Syracuse!

The first half of the capacity building institute focused on state alliance building. We heard about leadership models from existing state alliances in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Denise Rozell from the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD) shared updates on legislative "wins" at the state level impacting inclusive postsecondary education, many of which could be categorized as such because of the support they received by strong state alliances.

The remainder of the afternoon centered around regional alliance building. In addition to the state alliance development work Think College has done for years, the Think College Network has a strong focus on providing infrastructure and support for regional alliance development by encouraging collaboration among states and sharing of resources like policies and practices and lessons learned across states within a region. This is helpful because within a region, states often have similar political climates and sometimes there is more influence when sharing a resource from a neighboring state vs. something across the country. Also, this is a case where more can be better: there is strength in numbers when states work together on IPSE.

Two established regional alliances, the Southeast Postsecondary Education Alliance (SEPSEA), Midwest Inclusive Postsecondary Alliance (MIPSA), and the newly formed Great Lakes Inclusive Postsecondary Education Alliance (GLIPSEA), shared their history, organizational structures, and lessons learned. This was invaluable information for those in attendance who are interested in the process of forming a regional alliance.

It was exciting and encouraging to have so much interest in state and regional alliances together in one room. In just a year since starting TCN, we have seen such momentum in state and regional alliance development. Also, it was an honor to have Madeline Will and Stephanie Smith Lee attend the CBI, and to have Madeleine reference our regional alliance work in her Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech to SOTA later in the week and at subsequent addresses with other groups. The whole event really affirmed the Think College Network is moving in the right direction!

Has all this information gotten you excited about state and regional alliances? Good news: there are more capacity building institutes in the works, so check the Events on our website for information. Also, you might consider joining the State Alliance Affinity Group, which meets every other month. The State Alliance Affinity Group welcomes anyone working on any type of formal or informal state-level connection, proposing systems change through alliances and consortia, or those who are curious about how these alliances can work.

Not sure if there is an alliance in your state or region? Check out the What’s Happening In Your State? page to view state contacts as well as regional alliance information, when applicable. We also just released a new page focused on State Alliances which has everything you need to know about state alliances all in one place. If you are interested in supporting the creation of a state or regional alliance, please reach out to Susanna Miller-Raines.

About the post authors: Danie Roberts-Dahm (pictured at left, on right) and Susanna Miller-Raines (pictured at left, on left) bring fresh passion and years of experience to Think College as leaders of The Network. Since 2014, they have been collaborating to establish state and regional alliances for inclusive postsecondary education in the Southeast. Their dedication to improving opportunities and outcomes for students with intellectual disability is infectious and we look forward to what the future brings!

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