Inclusive Higher Education: A Growing Global Movement

It's a new year and I’m feeling pretty optimistic about our work and about the direction of our field. One very exciting development I want to share with you is the emergence of inclusive higher education as an international movement.

In October 2022, Debra Hart and I had the chance to share our work with an international audience at the European State-Of-The-Art Congress on Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Programme for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities (EU SOTA). This conference was hosted at the University of Education in Salzburg Austria and offered a wonderful opportunity to connect with allies and experts in the field. Our host, Wolfgang Plaute from the University of Education Salzburg, shared the vision for the conference and described the establishment of JoinIN.

JoinIN is the European Network for Inclusive Higher Education. It was founded by the Erasmus+ Project of the European Union Inclusive Postsecondary Education Programme for Students with Intellectual Disabilities and was developed by several partners:

  • Austria: University of Education Salzburg Stefan Zweig
  • Germany: Catholic University of Applied Sciences Berlin
  • Iceland: University of Iceland
  • Ireland: Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork, Waterford Institute of Technology
  • Switzerland (as an associated partner): University of Education Zürich – Institute Unterstrass

In addition to hosting this exciting event, JoinIN has also established a website, offering a place for students, families, and professionals to locate programs available in the EU. The website offers a resource library and provides practitioners the chance to share their own resources.

Another development we learned about at the EU SOTA is the establishment of the Inclusive National Higher Education Forum (INHEF) in Ireland. This initiative supports the sustainability and development of existing and future inclusive education initiatives for students with intellectual disabilities within Irish universities and colleges. Leaders from INHEF shared many presentations about the existing programs in Ireland and the need for further development of additional postsecondary options. Newly passed legislation in Ireland will be supporting expansion initiatives in the coming year. We had wonderful conversations about potential collaboration with Michael Shevlin and Des Astin from Trinity College Dublin and others at the EU SOTA conference.

The EU SOTA event also allowed us to learn more about inclusive higher education efforts in many other countries in addition to Austria and Ireland. We heard about initiatives in Germany, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. We were pleased to see presentations from three programs from the US. Given our work as the National Coordinating Center, I was especially proud that these programs could share their experiences as current or former Transition Postsecondary Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSIDs). Bryan Dague and Jessalyn Gustin from the University of Vermont shared lessons learned from their 10 years of experience. Jerry Petroff and Amy Schuler from The College of New Jersey shared strategies to support the development of student self-direction in college. Debra and I described what we have learned from our national longitudinal TPSID data on college students with intellectual disability from the TPSID data and emerging guidance on accreditation.

Students also had a strong and positive presence at the event. One of the keynote sessions offered attendees a chance to see “And They Were Roommates”, an amazing documentary film created by Kylie Walter about her experience being roommates with a fellow student, Olivia Baist, at Syracuse University (SU). She and Olivia, along with SU faculty member Christine Ashby and Taishoff Center Executive Director Beth Myers conducted a panel conversation after the viewing.

If you're reading this wishing you could learn more about these presentations and all the others, I’m happy to report that the conference proceedings are available on the JoinIN website, so everyone can have access to the sessions that were so engaging!

It is exciting to be able to see the field of inclusive higher education growing in such a positive and global way. Each of the attendees at this conference has made this work a priority. Building inclusive learning options in higher education takes a lot of time and energy, and most of all, passion. We continue to do the hard work every day of trying to move the proverbial needle on creating quality higher education options, and encouraging students, families, and educators to Think College for all students with ID. As we continue our national work together with you, it is thrilling to see the potential for future growth and sharing as inclusive higher education becomes an international movement.

About the post author: Meg Grigal is principal investigator on the Think College National Coordinating Center, as well as the Think College Inclusive Higher Education Network and Future Quest Island Explorations projects. She has been active in developing and expanding inclusive higher education for the past 25 years. Meg leads project development and implementation efforts aimed at advancing expectations and opportunities for people with intellectual disability to access higher education.