East Tennesse State University – Tennesse, America

The official name of this Universitys’ student support programme is called Access ETSU (East Tennessee State University). This programme was initiated by academic staff and community stakeholders with the aim of creating a more inclusive experience for students with disabilities. In addition to persons with disabilities, Access ETSU supports low-income students, first generation students, LGBTQ students and staff, and staff and students of colour. These equity groups were identified through student feedback.

In the last two years the programme has carried out the following activities with regard to equal access, inclusion and diversity:

Support and counselling for students and university staff
Lectures, workshops, seminars for students, faculty and non-teach staff
Training courses for peer educators
Public promotion (e.g. production of media content such as podcasts)
Fundraising events
Improving physical accessibility
Improving digital accessibility

In addition to the mentioned activities to support inclusion, Access ETSU also implements strategy/action plans and recommendations/guidelines to counter exclusionary and discriminatory practices at the university.

The motivation for establishing Access ETSU was that, due to families being previously limited in post-secondary options for their students with intellectual disabilities, faculty saw a need to create a more diverse and inclusive campus. A need for services, programming, resources, time and budget were crucial for institutional leadership in deciding to establish this support programme in order to improve wider access, inclusion, and diversity for students and staff. This programme is successful as, while some higher education institutions may provide segregated, specialised instruction, Access ETSU is 100% inclusive. This programme does not replicate services on the campus or provide anything separated.
This progrmme is not governed by national policy.
This service was added in addition to Disability Services. It operates with a limited amount of administrative staff to provide more resources for students. Full-time positions include a project manager, academic coordinator, employment coordinator, and community integration coordinator. There is also a part-time project director who provides oversight and fiscal management. Diversity, inclusion and equality are explicitly mentioned in the programme and university’s strategies, policies and work plans. The internal core team provides most of the day-to-day decision-making and guidance. Access ETSU also works with an Advisory Board of diverse stakeholders. The programme conducts all business according to university policies and is under their guidance as well. This programme is part of official networks such as local, regional and national networks. The main benefits of participating in such networks include extensive collaboration with other universities and governing bodies and the ability to share ideas.
The main challenges which Access ETSU had to overcome to establish a successful programme were mainly, limited resources. The programme needed a major grant from the federal government to scale up and expand the services available. Additionally, the main obstacles to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the programme is understanding the funding mechanisms/ budget models, and deciding where the department fits in the university structure. The stability of the funding for the programme is reasonably stable currently, and is grant funded with plans to be funded by the university itself.
Access ETSU has a formal evaluation process. The indicators used to measure the success of the programme are Inclusive Higher Education Quality Indicators. Evaluation data is collected through extensive surveys and interviews and is then disseminated to ThinkCollege national coordinating centre, state level collaborative networks, families and stakeholders.

Access ETSU

Tennesse, America