The College of Adaptive Arts–the nation’s first inclusive higher education program for people with differing abilities–was awarded $2.2 million in state funding Friday morning to expand its workforce development program and offerings for students.
The funds, which were announced by state Sen. Dave Cortese, will go toward creating an educational model at the Saratoga-based school that can be replicated at any university campus across the country so students of all abilities can have a college experience.
“These resources, secured by state Sen. 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 CAA co-founder and executive director Deanna Pursai.
In addition to educational opportunities, the CAA, which operates at the West Valley College campus at1400 Fruitvale Road, aims to create a career pipeline for educational apprenticeships and teaching classes.
“The workforce development piece of this is what most struck me on my first tour of CAA,” Cortese said at the event. “I thought I was coming to a place that was solely to educate, which would have been enough, but when I saw a former student in a dance studio teaching dance students professionally in a paid position, I realized we need to figure out a way to bring this program into the funding stream of all state programs that are focused not just on education but workforce development.”
The state funding comes on the heels of a $250,000 budget allocation from Santa Clara County in July. The county funding is set to be disbursed over two years to fund staffing, provide dedicated computers for the workforce development program and provide transportation for program participants where necessary.
Student Michael Oduma, who emceed a press conference announcing the funding, said that during his time at the CAA, he’s made strong friendships and had the opportunity to take classes that he is interested in.
“My passions are in leadership, government and community, and I have been referred to as the mayor of CAA,” Oduma said. He gives tours to prospective students every Friday.
Oduma’s commanding voice carried through the West Valley College student center as he introduced key speakers during the event.
Pursai said the ultimate goal of CAA is to spread its model across the nation at various colleges and universities using a similar model to the Special Olympics.
The school is working to develop career paths that are in line with students’ intellectual interests and capabilities. The funds will help the program hire another career services coordinator.
College of Adaptive Arts co-founders Dr. Pamela Lindsay, center, and DeAnna Pursai, right, talk with West Valley-Mission Community College District Trustee Adrienne Grey, before an event, where Senator Dave Cortese announced $2.2 million dollars in funding for the College of Adaptive Arts to expand their workforce development programs for students of all abilities, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
“Right now we have one registrar, which worked really well when we had 60 to 70 students, and now we’re at 240 students, so we’re trying to build out a proper career advisory” department, Pursai said. “It’s all employment opportunities that are accessing their intellectual pursuits and their interests, vs. the manual labor model that is very widespread.”
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AJ Vanderpan, a current CAA student, said he’s taking technology, fitness, Italian, visual arts and employment skill classes.
CAA was founded in 2009 and currently serves more than 224 students across nine states. They offer more than 69 courses online and in-person, across 10 schools in subjects like business, science, technology, communications and library arts.
College of Adaptive Arts board member Vickie Fairchild, left, takes a photo with the College of Adaptive Arts students, from left, AJ Vanderpan, Robert Tafoya and Michael Oduma, during an event, where Senator Dave Cortese announced $2.2 million dollars in funding for the College of Adaptive Arts to expand their workforce development programs for students of all abilities, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)