Postsecondary transition programs

A win/win proposition for universities

11/19/2010  |  SHARON SANDERS, Ph.D.
postsecondary education

An article in a previous issue asked the question, “Why postsecondary education for young adults with intellectual disabilities?” The author, after presenting the issue, concluded with, “Why not?”


The question is a new one. In the past, students with intellectual disabilities typically spent the majority of their high school years preparing for direct employment. But typical students have options other than employment and a college experience is more than just job preparation. Attending college is a maturing experience desired by many young adults, including those with intellectual disabilities.


Federal Support for Postsecondary Transition

The article mentioned was timely, given the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act making Pell Grants and work study opportunities available to students in postsecondary transition program as of July 1, 2010. And, in early October of 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the award of $10.9 million for grants that create opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to attend and be successful in higher education.

“President Obama has set a goal for America to have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020,” Duncan said. “These new programs make an important contribution toward that goal by giving students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to receive a quality postsecondary education with the support they need to attend, complete and succeed in higher education.”

Even before this initiative, several colleges and universities had already developed postsecondary transition programs. Clemson University offers one such program, the ClemsonLIFE (Learning is for Everyone) Postsecondary Transition program. Programs like ClemsonLIFE offer youth with intellectual disabilities an individualized program that provides instruction on employment skills, independent living skills, and social skills in a socially inclusive college setting. (Note: An online database of available postsecondary transition programs can be found at

All too often, initiatives termed win/win aren’t really. However, universities with established postsecondary transition programs have found these programs do create a win/win situation. For example, early in the planning stages of ClemsonLIFE university administrators were unsure of the benefits. There were concerns about housing, safety, and the benefits of the program to the university as a whole. The ClemsonLIFE program is now in its fourth semester and has evolved into a very important Clemson campus experience with many benefits.

Provides Funding for Graduate Students

The ClemsonLIFE program employs between 10 and 15 staff members each semester. The program covers the salary of the project director, but the other coordinators are all Clemson students, typically special education graduate students. The program provides salaries and tuition to support these students in completing their degree and assists these future leaders in developing leadership and managerial skills. Other program staff members provide supervision in the residential areas and receive salaries and housing support.

Provides Research Opportunities

These programs provide many research opportunities to research institutions, such as Clemson University. Having students on campus provides education faculty a way to examine instructional techniques, time management strategies, and other practices that can benefit the larger education community while, at the same time, improving the outcomes for the students in the program. This is especially pertinent today because federal support ensures that more of these programs will be established. However, the field is new and there is little in the literature base about effective strategies, especially those involving newer technological advances.

Provides Field Experiences on Campus

Education students strengthen their instructional and curriculum development skills through serving as classroom instructors for the basic skills classes. They learn to differentiate instruction, develop appropriate lessons, and assess progress. Math education majors provide mathematics tutoring while other education students assist with homework assignments, money management instruction and time management guidance.

Provides Opportunities for Knowledge Application and Practice

Obviously, a program focused on instruction provides opportunities for education students, but ClemsonLIFE involves all of the Clemson campus. Therapeutic recreation majors provide fitness assessments and help with gym workouts. Food science majors provide nutrition classes and meet students in the apartments for healthy cooking classes. Students of all majors and levels serve as employment coaches, helping the students learn and master the tasks required at their employment internships, and provide time management assistance.

Provides Opportunities for Collaboration Between Faculty Members

The initiatives above involve students of all majors which also brings faculty members together for collaborations. Currently, ClemsonLIFE staff members collaborate with faculty from Food Science on the nutrition and healthy cooking aspect, with faculty and graduate students from Therapeutic Recreation on fitness, and with Psychology on a new project utilizing driver simulators.

Same Conclusion as Before

Once more, we come to the conclusion, “Why not?” but the voice is even stronger now. By providing university students a quality education with the ability to apply their expertise in an integrated and caring environment while at the same time preparing young adults with disabilities to live independently and achieve gainful employment, it is obvious that supporting these programs is a win/win proposition. The only question left at this point is, “So, why aren’t you?”

Sharon Sanders, Ph.D., is program manager, ClemsonLIFE. For information, visit

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