Date of Award

Spring 2-10-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Jeff Lee

Second Advisor

Dr. Laurie Wellner

Third Advisor

Dr. Loren O'Connor


The purpose of this ethnographic study was to examine and describe the lived experiences of seven students with intellectual disabilities (ID) participating in two postsecondary education (PSE) settings in Southern California that were aligned to the Think College Standards-Based Conceptual Framework for Inclusive Higher Education.

Through a qualitative approach of ethnography, the researcher examined various stakeholders’ awareness and ability to support students with ID in higher education settings in an effort to support future development of PSE programs for students with ID. Methodology tools included classroom observations, individual interviews, and examination of artifacts from the sample of PSE settings in Southern California supporting students with ID.

Through triangulation of the interviews, observations, and artifacts, the researcher found 13 themes that emerged as substantial stories related to the lived experiences of students with ID in PSE. The findings included that the experiences of the students with ID in PSE were associated with new opportunities, meaningful experiences through independence and teamwork, development of self-advocacy, community acceptance similar to experiences of nondisabled peers, confidence to raise the bar of expectations, and an understanding of the impact on others through the lived experience of the students with ID in PSE.

As a result of inclusive higher education, the experiences of students with ID in PSE programs focused on developing life skills beyond the classroom through impacting the culture of the college and community, increased acceptance amongst nondisabled peers, and created parallel adult development that led to more fulfilling adult lives and deepened relationships with others.

Recommendations from the research include PSE teams’ need to create interdisciplinary groups that design inclusive, innovative classroom environments that promote community acceptance, acknowledgment of individual ability, and increased relationships; create assessment tools to determine individual strengths and needs; and offer additional scholarships to increase the opportunity to access higher education environments.