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Opening Doors to College – Multi-Million Dollar Grant Changes Lives

Multi-million dollar grant will change lives at Millersville University and four PA Partnering Universities.

Students with intellectual disabilities are already experiencing an inclusive educational program at Millersville University of Pennsylvania (MU). And now, thanks to a multi-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), more colleges and universities across the Commonwealth will be able to replicate MU’s initiative.  The $2.38 million grant will help to change lives, create learning opportunities, and promote the value of full inclusion for all community members.

“It’s simply profound the impact this grant will have,” said Dr. Thomas Neuville, Principal Investigator on the grant and professor of Educational Foundations at Millersville. “The five-year grant will improve post college employment opportunities for students in the current major “Integrated Studies” at Millersville, as well as having it serve as one of five fully inclusive models to develop similar majors throughout the Commonwealth.”

“During the past five years, we have witnessed an increase in students planning for, applying to and attending college. The receipt of this grant recognizes Integrated Studies’ commitment to providing fully inclusive experiences and the affirmation that our model is indeed what students and families are seeking,” said Dr. Ann Marie Licata, Co-Principal Investigator and assistant professor.

“Inclusion is one of our six core values,” says Dr. Daniel Wubah, president of Millersville University. “Inclusion motivates us to create a campus environment where differences can be expressed and respectfully heard, and where every person experiences a sense of belonging. Receiving this grant is a testament to our commitment to provide a superlative education in a vibrant community for ALL students.”

The grant is in collaboration with Duquesne University , Gwynedd Mercy University, Lock Haven University and Temple University. Additionally,  Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities will serve as research coordinator. This significant collaboration was organized by the Pennsylvania Inclusive Higher Education Consortium (PIHEC), a division of Millersville University which resulted from a previous DOE grant.

The grant will pay for sustaining five model initiatives and the development of new initiatives throughout the Commonwealth.  PIHEC is dedicated to the mission of inclusive postsecondary education for young adults with intellectual disabilities, a movement which began in the United States in the 1970s and has evolved toward robust authentic college experiences only in recent decades. As educational policy and practice have begun to reflect the essential right to equal opportunities for students with disabilities, so too have expectations increased for participation of students with intellectual disability in higher education.

“What makes the initiative work at Millersville is that students from programs and majors across the University get to know each other,” said Neuville.  “Universities are working to stop systemic ableism. Welcoming people who have not traditionally been welcome is the key to changing lives and changing systems. Each individual student’s life is forever positively altered.  And each university experiences a level of change as Opening Doors to College requires a fundamental change in teaching and learning.  The power of bringing people in, almost always results in ushering out the age of segregation and exclusion.”

Current undergraduate students serve as coaches for the people in Integrated Studies.  Professors are involved by tailoring their teaching approach based on the students in their classroom.  Students graduate with a certificate reflecting the Integrated Studies major and individualized course of study.

The overarching vision of the initiative is to design and support inclusive postsecondary learning within a higher education environment and allow students with intellectual disability to experience the myriad benefits of an authentic college experience.

About Integrated Studies
Millersville’s Integrated Studies major enrolled their first student in fall 2014 and expanded to 29 students for fall 2020.  The program provides individuals with an intellectual disability an opportunity to obtain a high-quality, individualized postsecondary education that will lead to social and professional networks, careers and a bright future. Applications are continually accepted.

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