Building on a Decade of Progress

As we launch a new National Coordinating Center,  it seems like a good time to pause and reflect on the decade of progress we have witnessed.

October 1, 2010.

Do you remember what you were doing that day?

I do.

That was the day our work at the National Coordinating Center began.

It was a brand-new Center; and we weren’t sure what to expect.

When the US Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education funded the Coordinating Center and 27 Transition Postsecondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) model demonstration projects in 2010, it gave us all the chance to take our work to a new level.

Many important and lasting partnerships began that day. We had just published a book on the topic, aptly named Think College! and we hoped to use it to lay a foundation for this emerging field of practice called inclusive higher education.

We wanted to collect data and begin to document how higher education improved the outcomes of students with intellectual disabilities. How it also improved the experiences of their college peers, and professors, and ultimately improved the culture of higher education.

These were high hopes (yes, I have begun to hum a song about rubber tree plants as I write this).

Since the inception of the TPSID program and the first NCC in 2010, we have seen tremendous growth in the number of inclusive higher education programs in the United States. As I write this, there are 303 colleges and universities enrolling over 6500 students with ID*- a 103% percent increase in the number of programs since 2009. (*This number changes almost weekly so make sure to double check before quoting this.)

And this growth in the number of college options is only a part of the picture of how things have changed.

Our data are richer, our network of practitioners is wider, and the entities engaged in developing future expansion have diversified. We are building a movement. Through these connections and shared visions, we are changing what is possible. What is expected.

Our field is growing with practitioners entering from various backgrounds, some through their graduate programs, others through peer mentoring experiences. Additionally, experienced professionals from special or higher education enter our field seasoned and excited to apply their experience and passion in this new context.  We are seeing new partners interested in recalibrating their efforts toward inclusive efforts in college campuses.

Just last fall we saw a whole new round of investments made by the US Department of Education. The 22 newly funded TPSID grantees will continue to expand college options for students with ID and create new knowledge about what works in inclusive higher education.

We, and by we, I mean all of us around the country who have worked so hard to keep this movement growing, have accomplished great things in the past 10 years.

We see this when our work no longer focuses on simply gaining access to a campus or a class but helping students gain access to a high-quality credential that leads to desired employment.

We see this when instead of trying to make progress under the radar, we put our issues and challenges on the agenda of state leaders in disability and higher education.

We see this when students, pursuing their college dreams can look at an array of options with different focuses and choose the best match for them- JUST Like every other college student.

As we move into the next decade, we at the National Coordinating Center will be counting on all of you to help us to continue to build our knowledge base, improve our practices, extend our research and policy work. The Inclusive Higher Education movement has and will continue to change expectations and expand opportunities for students with intellectual disability to achieve their college dreams.

Meg Grigal is a white woman with long blond hair and blue eyes, smiling and looking into the cameraPost author: Meg Grigal, principal investigator on the Think College National Coordinating Center, as well as the Moving Transition Forward and Future Quest Island Explorations projects. She has been active in developing and expanding inclusive higher education for the past 23 years. Meg leads project development and implementation efforts aimed at advancing expectations and opportunities for people with intellectual disability to access higher education.