Chattanooga State Wins 1 of 5 Tennessee Believes Grants, Will Launch Inclusive Higher Ed Program

/ June 20, 2023

By Cara Kumari

The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities announced recently that it will award Tennessee Believes grant funding to five colleges and universities across the state to launch or enhance inclusive higher education programs.

We are excited that Chattanooga State Community College will receive funding to create a new inclusive program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities on its campus. Chattanooga State will be the second community college to begin an inclusive higher ed program. (The first was Dyersburg State Community College.) Funding was also awarded to Lipscomb University in Nashville, University of Memphis, East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, and The Union University EDGE Program in Jackson, TN.

“It’s amazing to see how inclusive higher education programs have provided inclusion and access to students who previously thought college was out of reach for them,” said DIDD Commissioner Brad Turner. “I’m proud that DIDD has played a role in expanding access to more institutions across the state.”

This is the second year of grant funding provided through Tennessee Believes, which supports inclusive higher education programs. DIDD received an additional $500,000 from Gov. Bill Lee and Tennessee General Assembly to expand the program’s reach. The department will provide multi-year grants for up to three years to selected colleges and universities as requested in their applications.

The awards are as follows:

  • Chattanooga State Community College: $411,917 over three years to create the Tiger Access Program for students with intellectual and developmental The two-year program will focus on life skills, career exploration, and job readiness for up to nine students in its first year.
  • Lipscomb University: $300,000 over three years to provide an Advanced Certificate Program for students in its IDEAL This would provide an additional third or fourth year of education while preparing students for independent living and employment.
  • East Tennessee State University: $400,000 for three years to support the transition of students in its ACCESS ETSU program into competitive integrated employment and independent living. ETSU will partner with a community services provider, Core Services of Northeast Tennessee, to provide transitional support, including community navigators and job coaches, to ensure long-term success post-graduation.
  • University of Memphis: $375,000 for three years to create a three-year study, called PROOF, focused on expanding current inclusive higher education programs at the university. This includes offering credentials and training for individuals exiting the school system and the TigerLIFE program, piloting a study for expanding into independent living, and assessing the feasibility at adding new inclusive programs at other West Tennessee colleges and universities.
  • The Union University EDGE Program: $10,000 for two years to provide groceries and supplies to its cooking lab program. The program helps teach EDGE students about cooking and nutrition, so students can gain independence and self-sufficiency while learning important social skills, such as teamwork and communication.

“We are delighted to welcome a ninth inclusive higher education program to the Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance,” said Elise McMillan, director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and a leader of the Alliance, “There are now seven programs at four-year universities and two programs at community colleges across the state. We still need more programs in Tennessee, and so appreciate Tennessee Believes to help supports this growth.

“Through the Alliance,” McMillan said, “We have worked with DIDD, the Department of Education, Vocational Rehabilitation, Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, TennCare and other state agencies to build inclusive higher education in Tennessee.”

Graduates of the state’s inclusive higher education programs have a more than 80% employment rate after graduation, McMillan said.

DIDD received a total of eight applications from state institutions for the Tennessee Believes program. The funding will be awarded to the five schools in the coming weeks.

Learn more about Tennessee Believes here:

I have seen the benefits of inclusive higher education programs for some of my friends’ sons and daughters, so I’m always glad to hear when new opportunities for students in other parts of the state gain access to a college or university. Often having such an option close to home is important for both the parents and the students. I hope interested parents, students and college faculty will continue to push and get the funding and institutional support they need to create such programs in other areas of the state as well. I extend my best wishes to Chattanooga State as that school begins its new program, and my congratulations to other universities for expanding their work. Also, my thanks to Cara for jumping in during vacation season to get this post out! If you have questions, you can always contact me at Thanks for reading!

Cara Kumari is the assistant commissioner of Communications and External Affairs for DIDD.  In her role, she oversees DIDD’s internal and external communications efforts for the state’s home- and community-based waivers, the Katie Beckett Program, and the Tennessee Early Intervention System.  Prior to joining DIDD nine years ago, she spent a more than a decade in TV news as a state government reporter in Nashville, Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri.  She is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.


Share this Post