UC Davis Establishing 4-Year Program for Students With Fragile X, Other Disabilities

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by Forest Ray PhD |

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The U.S. Department of Education awarded $2.1 million to the University of California, Davis, MIND Institute to create a four-year college program for students with intellectual disabilities, including those with fragile X syndrome.

The goal of the Supported Education to Elevate Diversity, or SEED, Scholar program is to provide a meaningful credential to its graduates and to serve as a model for other schools in California.

“It’s a game-changer. It’s the only thing like it in the west,” Beth Foraker, who will serve as the director of the SEED Scholar program, said in a university press release.

The transition into adult life poses significant challenges for people living with disorders such as fragile X. Navigating it well often requires a great deal of support.

Students in the program will live in campus housing, attend classes, and participate in extracurricular activities. They may also be able to apply for internships, with placement options within UC Davis Health, on campus, and in legislative offices at California’s state capitol.

They will benefit from a support system that includes assistance with academic and social activities, health and wellness, undergraduate peer mentors, and internship oversight.

The curriculum will include regular UC Davis courses and special courses designed around independent living and other needs of scholars.

The first group of 12 SEED Scholars is due to begin classes in fall 2021, and may include students with fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, or autism.

Research shows that adults with intellectual disabilities are more likely to live in poverty. As of 2017, the National Council on Disability estimated that some 228,600 people with intellectual or other significant disabilities work for below minimum wage.

Post-secondary education options for this population are extremely limited, with few schools offering inclusive four-year programs.

“This is a chance for them to go on to make a living wage, to live an authentic life of true freedom,” said Foraker, who has a son with Down syndrome.

The grant period lasts for five years and falls under the Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities, or TPSID. Created in 2010, these grants enable higher education institutions to create or expand high-quality, inclusive post-secondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities.

UC Davis is the first California university to receive a TPSID for such a program. The grant covers roughly 80% of the cost, with philanthropic donations providing most of the remaining funds.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for UC Davis to be on the forefront of offering college experiences for young people with disabilities,” said Lauren E. Lindstrom, PhD, dean of the School of Education and a faculty member of the MIND Institute.

The MIND Institute and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan to hire new staff over the coming months to design the curriculum, housing options, and peer mentor program. They also intend to create an outreach system to attract applicants from local schools.

“Even though we were motivated originally by the benefit to the students with intellectual disabilities, I think there’s going to be a great benefit to UC Davis undergraduate students in general,” said Leonard Abbeduto, PhD, director of the MIND Institute. “This is why we encourage diversity in all of its forms. We want people to understand the world from everyone else’s perspective because there’s great value in that.”