Friday, March 1, 2024

Senator Cortese Secures Funding to Expand First-in-the-Nation Inclusive Higher Education Program for People with Differing Abilities

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Senator Cortese Secures Funding to Expand First-in-the-Nation Inclusive Higher Education Program for People with Differing Abilities

Senator Dave Cortese joined with leaders of special education on Friday to announce a $2.2 million state investment into the College of the Adaptive Arts (CAA). This funding will expand on CAA’s groundbreaking efforts in delivering lifelong, equitable, and college-level education to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities — along with a greater career pipeline including educational apprenticeships and teaching classes.

“It’s an honor to announce that we secured $2.2 million for the College of the Adaptive Arts, located at the West Valley Community College campus,” said Senator Cortese (D-San Jose). “This investment will expand collegiate-level educational opportunities, workforce development, and career guidance for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. CAA’s model is not just about education; it’s about fostering lifelong connections and growing communities that embrace acceptance and belonging.”

These resources, secured by State Senator Cortese, will allow this innovative, lifelong collegiate model to reach full operational fruition for adults who historically have not had access to college education,” said Deanna Pursai, co-founder and executive director of CAA. “We will use these resources to fortify the program, build stronger partnerships with West Valley College, and build a replicable blueprint model that we plan to mentor other like-minded education leaders locally and around the world to consider adapting in their communities.

“Every campus around the world should partner with CAA and make space for college students like me. I am so proud to be a lifelong learner,” said AJ Vanderpan, a current student. “CAA has pioneered special higher education programs for students just like me — hungry to keep learning and growing into the best version of ourselves. I love that I get to choose my classes each semester. This quarter, I am studying technology, fitness, Italian, visual arts and employment skills.”

CAA launched in 2009 and currently serves over 224 students across 9 states, offering more than 69 courses across 10 Schools of Instruction this summer/fall semester at the West Valley Community College campus. The College’s expanded curriculum includes fields such as business, science and technology, communications, and library arts, reflecting its commitment to comprehensive and well-rounded education.

CAA aspires to create a model similar to the Special Olympics, which boasts venues spanning every state and across the world. The Special Olympics allows people with disabilities to compete and build self-confidence through teamwork and athleticism. However, many adults with disabilities have interests and passions that expand beyond athletic pursuits. CAA will create a comparable model in the arts and intellectual space, allowing people with disabilities to participate in the program their entire working lives. Nationwide, K-14 educational programs only serve students in special education up to age 22. 

The California Department of Developmental Services is currently the only recurring public funder of CAA. The new $2.2 million state investment will fund a variety of initiatives aimed at enhancing CAA’s program. One program will establish a greater career pipeline for CAA students through strategic community partnerships with likeminded organizations. These partnerships will allow organizations to employ CAA students as well as West Valley College Disability Educational Support Program (DESP) and Continuing Education students through apprenticeships. These organizations can also contribute valuable input for the ever-expanding CAA curriculum.

Additionally, the new state resources will strengthen the existing collaboration between CAA and its host institution, Saratoga-based West Valley College. Students of West Valley College will have new opportunities to engage with CAA through apprenticeships and through volunteering as part of their newly-established Democracy Institute. Another portion of the state investment will fund the development of a sustainable and replicable CAA model for institutions of higher learning across the globe, fostering inclusivity and equity on an international scale. 

For more information about the College of the Adaptive Arts, visit

Senator Dave Cortese represents Senate District 15, which encompasses much of Santa Clara County in the heart of Silicon Valley. Visit Senator Cortese’s website:



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