The College of Adaptive Arts in San Jose, California, offers undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs across 10 different majors.
At the College of Adaptive Arts in San Jose, California, adults with learning disabilities can finally experience all the parts of college life that they missed out on. The nonprofit college, founded by DeAnna Ellenberger Pursai and Dr. Pam Lindsay in 2009, provides a lifelong, equitable collegiate experience for adults with special needs who historically have not had access to higher education. The two founders were motivated to launch the college owing to their personal experiences with caring for family members with learning disabilities. To date, they have enrolled almost 350 students, filling a crucial education gap, CNN reports.
"At the start, it was just Dr. Pam and I teaching everything," Pursai shared in an interview with the news outlet. "And then the adults asked, 'Can we try a poetry class? What about a computer class?' We went with it. We listened to them." Although the school is unaccredited, it offers a typical college experience. Students can choose from 10 majors, including business, theater, music, dance, and health and wellness. They can pursue undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate diplomas. Dr. Lindsay was responsible for developing the program's model of teaching adults with special needs and helping to bring the unique curriculum to life.
She said, "Our focus is not, 'How high do you kick?' Or 'How well can you read a sentence?' Our focus is, 'Are you continuing to practice these skill sets and building these cognitive-developmental skillsets?'" In 2020, the college formed a partnership with West Valley College. The college is now located on its campus in Saratoga, California, giving this program the full collegiate feel. According to Pursai, several parents and guardians have expressed relief that their child found a safe space to learn, grow and create friendships. "It's the integrity that we are treating their child like the intellectual adult they are," she affirmed. "It's palpable joy. Every class is the same level of pure joy."
Pursai hopes she can expand the program to every college campus. "There are adults out there everywhere who are languishing because they've been sidelined because traditional college is not for them. But when you give them a safe space, it's an unbelievable transformation," she said. The College of Adaptive Arts is particularly important as adults with learning disabilities have access to the K-12 education system for four years after high school (this is called postsecondary education). While they do have access to education until the age of 22, this access disappears soon after in all 50 states .
At present, the college has even started hiring back some of its students. "We have begun to hire our students to be associate professors of instruction and teaching assistants at our college," said Pursai. "We have a new school of business, and we started this employment class to help build capacity and give these students an opportunity to become part-time staff members. And we're really excited about this component. It's kind of a new wave of vocational training. They are so capable and so excited. It's all about encouragement and smiling, and just being a good role model for the other students."