Dear Portland State University Provost, Dean, and Equity Offices,
After many years of passionate advocacy, and with the support of their families and educators, youth with intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD) finally realized their dream of attending college. PSU also took a phenomenal step forward in its commitment to equity and access to a marginalized population that had been segregated and excluded. In 2016 this monumental achievement in Oregon’s disability history became a reality as Portland State University (PSU) offering a 4-year inclusive Career and Community Studies (CCS) program, the first cohort of Oregon students with IDD began their college journey joining the four-year inclusive CCS Program.
At this time Portland State University’s decisions to put a moratorium on the program, cut staffing, and not enrolling a freshman cohort of students in the CCS program this fall means the state of Oregon currently does not have a single program for students with IDD who want to go to college in September or in the future. There are 310 colleges across the country offering options and we will have zero in Oregon. We (abicommunity.org) represent over 5,000 local constituents and our partners in the coalition reach many more, they are all hoping you will understand this need.
National data regarding outcomes for students with intellectual developmental disabilities who attend college programs is more than compelling. Think College national data shows that students who obtain a paid job while enrolled in college were almost 15 times more likely to have a paid job at the exit of college than those who did not. Even in the year of COVID, CCS had a 100% employment rate of post graduate students. That is substantial considering National Core Indicator data shows that only 17% of adults with IDD in the general population have a paid job.
At every gathering we have young people with IDD share their dreams with us about going to college alongside their siblings and friends without disabilities. We host an annual Summit on inclusive higher education for students with IDD, have over 400 people in over 13 states who are involved in our Think College Inclusive College West Coast Coalition, with 267 of those people being from Oregon. Some of our biggest champions include youth and adult leaders with IDD, Senator Ron Wyden, Vocational Rehabilitation, Higher Education Coordinating Commission, Oregon Department of Education, school districts, executive directors, and other important constituents. We believe in elevating IDD in equity conversations and that there should be inclusive higher education options for all. There was at least one option unit now.
As we look at PSU’s Equity and Compliance statement, “We commit to equity as a foundation of PSU’s excellence. We define equity as ensuring everyone has access to opportunities necessary to satisfy essential needs, advance their well-being, and achieve their full potential. Our aim is to address the roots of inequities, including but not limited to racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, classism, and the intersections of these inequities” we wonder how it is being upheld in this situation. Disability is intersectional and historically students with IDD are the most discriminated against among other disability groups and the general public, and still today that this population remains the most oppressed. Ableism continues to perpetuate this, and we know that dismantling it is how we strive to break down these barriers and create equitable post-secondary opportunities for ALL.
There has been substantial financial investment from the federal level and a lot of support and investment from PSU. There has been investment from school districts and educators. There has been an investment from families and students. We are asking you to find a way to continue to keep this vital CCS program alive. Your small investment of $150 thousand will benefit the future of Oregonian’s with IDD. We understand that COVID has caused financial strains, yet we also ask you to understand that not enrolling students and discontinuing the Community and Career Studies program takes away the only equitable college option available to students with IDD in Oregon. Why stop now when we know inclusion and universal design for learning is the future?
We are the students with IDD, the parents, the educators, the professionals, the advocates, the allies, the community, the organizations, the coalition, and the supporters of equitable higher education options for students with IDD in Oregon. Your support now is critical to the livelihood of the CCS program and higher education equity work in Oregon. We need your help to make this program visible, relevant, and sustainable. We want to share with the impacted population and their communities that you will be supporting CCS, funding the program, and continuing forward momentum with IDD post-secondary equity.
There is still time to support continuation and vital reason to consider it. We have a large community interested and committed to seeing this work continue and continuation offers PSU an opportunity to continue to be at the forefront of equity for students with IDD in Oregon. We have so many students and families relying on your commitment to higher education equity by supporting CCS, and hundreds of members in our Think Inclusive West Coast Coalition waiting to hear your decision about supporting the CCS program. PSU staff, our national and federal partners, our Portland community, and many more have worked so hard for this post-secondary option, and it is the dream of children and young people with IDD in Oregon to go to college and the expectation of students without disabilities for their peers with IDD to be a part of the PSU community and not discriminated against.
We recognize how challenging these times are for PSU and we will help as we move forward to create more visibility and lobby for support, but we must not abandon the successful outcomes and great work so far. We don't want to undo five years of incredible work and future opportunities for young people to learn and give back to their communities. Please find funding for PSU’s CCS program.