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UC Davis to launch 4-Year Program for students with intellectual disabilities

Girl with Down syndrome using computer

The UC Davis MIND Institute and Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have received a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create an inclusive, four-year college program for students with intellectual disabilities.

The Supported Education to Elevate Diversity or SEED, Scholar program will be the first of its kind in California, and the goal is to create a model that could be used by other universities in the state.

“It’s a game-changer. It’s the only thing like it in the west,” said Beth Foraker, supervisor/lecturer in the School of Education’s Multiple Subject Credential Program, who will be the co-director of the SEED Scholar program.

The first group of 12 students is expected to begin classes in the fall of 2021 and is likely to include people with autism, Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. Foraker, whose 21-year-old son Patrick has Down syndrome, has been working toward this goal for years.

“Ninety-seven percent of adults with intellectual disabilities are living in poverty,” Foraker said, noting that postsecondary options are severely limited, with only a handful of four-year inclusive programs in the country. “This is a chance for them to go on to make a living wage, to live an authentic life of true freedom.”

The students will live in campus housing, attend classes and take part in extracurricular activities. An internship component is also planned, with options for placement within UC Davis Health, on campus and in legislative offices at the state Capitol.

“This really is about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Leonard Abbeduto, director of the MIND Institute. “People with intellectual disabilities should have the same rights to postsecondary education options as everyone else.”

The MIND Institute and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will jointly run the program, fully integrated into the campus community.
“I am excited about partnering with the MIND Institute to expand inclusive education and excellence,” said Renetta Garrison Tull, vice chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “Having support from the Department of Education for this new initiative to welcome students with intellectual disabilities into the UC Davis Aggie family is a reason to celebrate.”

SEED Scholars will have a support system, including undergraduate students who will serve as peer mentors, helping with academics and social activities, health and wellness and oversight of internships. A curriculum that includes regular UC Davis courses and some special courses focused on relevant issues such as independent living will also be designed. The goal is to create a program that will culminate in a meaningful credential for the graduates.

The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education falls under the Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities, or TPSID, created in 2010. UC Davis is the first university in California to receive a TPSID for a four-year inclusive, residential program. The grant will cover about 80 percent of the cost of creating the program, with the remainder being covered largely by philanthropy.

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