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Transition Planning Series: Postsecondary Educational Options (Part 2 of 5)

Postsecondary Education Options
L. Lynch

Part 1: The Transition Plan - What is it?
Part 2: (This Article)
Part 3: Postsecondary Employment
Part 4: Independent Living Skills
Part 5: Creating the Transition Plan

There are many postsecondary educational options for students with disabilities ranging from attendance at a traditional college to enrollment in a college "experience" program. Some postsecondary educational options require a high school diploma -- but many do not. So, before deciding what type of an educational goal to devise, review the below information to learn about the wide variety of programs available. It is important to note that youth "with intellectual disabilities who participated in postsecondary education were 26% more likely to leave vocational rehabilitation services with a paid job and earn a 73% higher weekly income." Fast Facts (Vol. 1, 2009), by ThinkCollege: National Center for Postsecondary Education for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (citing the National Vocational Rehabilitation Database). Below are some items related to postsecondary education that should be explored to help a student make choices and take the necessary steps to increase his or her postsecondary options.

1. Accommodations on testing:

  • For students taking standardized tests for college admission, make sure that the "Consent Form for Request for Accommodations" has been completed, is on file with the school and has been submitted by the student's case manager at the school (by end of 9th grade if possible). Click here for a sample form.
  • ACT: When registering for the ACT, make sure that the needed accommodations are requested. Accommodations may include: extended time for taking the test (up to 50% more time) and other special testing support. Alternative formats are available and testing at a school site may be available to a student where needed. Click here for the ACT test accommodations for students with disabilities.
  • SAT: This is offered at least 7 times a year (October, November, December, January and March) but registration times are around a month in advance. Students must apply for testing accommodations through the school by the spring before the first test to ensure that enough time is given to process the application for accommodations. (More information: Services for Students with Disabilities, List of common accommodations.

2. Enrollment in a program to earn a high school diploma after the 4 years of high school are over. As noted in Part 1 of this series, many students have until age 22 to earn a diploma so discussions at an IEP meeting should explore what educational options exist to help students with special needs work towards a diploma after the 4 years of high school if they are cognitively able to do so. Most districts' adult ed programs are not designed to support students with special needs so accessible appropriate postsecondary educational options may only be available through a community college's "disabled students programs & services" or adult ed program (e.g. Mira Costa Adult High School program), or through private schools that provide smaller instructional settings and supports for students with learning disabilities (e.g. Cal Coast Academy, Fusion, High Bluff Academy, Halstrom High School, Pacific Academy, and others). (See also "High School and Getting a Diploma: Options for Students with Disabilities.")

3. Enrollment in a "College Experience" program at a 4 year or 2 year university of college. In the event a student is not eligible for admission to a university or college, many colleges and universities still have programs (residential and nonresidential) designed to help students with intellectual disabilities have a college experience. Programs offer access to appropriate academic courses along with activities to help the student develop employment and independent living skills. Think College is an excellent resource for parents and students to explore to learn more about these programs. In some cases, programs may be paid for by a school district or regional center for eligible students in the event appropriate programs do not exist in the district.

Below are some of the programs in California and related resources that may be of interest:

  • UCLA’s 2-year Pathway Program: UCLA offers a 2-year certificate residential program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities that offers students a “blend of educational, social and vocational experiences, taught and supervised by experienced instructors sensitive to the individual needs” of the students. Students are interviewed to make sure they possess the needed skills for the program. The program offers structured “learning by doing” curriculum to help students build skills in academics, career exploration and work readiness, life skills and transition to independent living. (Ages typically 18-25 years old). To request an application, call: 310-794-1235 or download application via the website.
  • College Living Experiences Programs: These residential programs offer special needs students help with career development, academic tutoring, social activities and other supports to help a student develop independent living and social skills to successfully transition into adulthood. Programs are available in Costa Mesa, CA, Monterey, CA, Austin, TX, Denver, CO and Washington, D.C.
  • "College 2 Career" Programs at Community Colleges: There are community colleges in California that provide nonresidential programs to regional center customers who are at least 20 years of age, or who have graduated with a high school diploma. Students are assigned "ed coaches" and, where needed, an ed coach can accompany the student to help with class participation, provide light academic tutoring and more. Programs consist of 20-60 students and are funded through a grant from the Department of Rehabilitation. Sample campuses: North Orange County Community College (3 year program), San Diego Community College District, and College of Alameda.
  • San Diego Miramar "Trace" Program: This adult transition program provides services to help with job placement, self advocacy, classes that promote life learning, domestic skills and more.
  • Taft College's "Transition to Independent Living" Program: This residential program provides a collegiate experience, career education, self determination awareness, and empowerment through education. (Part of West Kern Community College District).
  • Coastline Community College ID Program: Program offers classes for students with mild moderate intellectual disabilities at its campus in Fountain Valley, CA.
  • College for Adaptive Education (Fallbrook, CA): Launched in May of 2015, Jeremiah's Ranch now offers postsecondary classes for adults with cognitive disabilities. Sample classes include: Micro Entrepreneurship, Performance Dance, Fine Arts, Visual Arts and more.

Many out-of-state universities also offer specialized programs for students with intellectual disabilities (e.g. Chapel Haven West (near Univ. of Arizona and the nearby SALT Center which provides learning support to college students with ADHD, etc. ), Univ. of Tennessee's "Future Program," Vanderbilt University's "Next Steps" program, etc.)

4. Enrollment in a community college generally: Community colleges may be more accessible to some students for postsecondary education because there is no minimum GPA requirement and a high school diploma is not required. Generally, to attend a community college, a student need only: 1. be 18 years or older, or 2. have a high school diploma or equivalent (e.g. a GED), or be currently attending high school. Community colleges offer a wide range of academic and vocational courses that students with disabilities can take to further their education and develop their interests. Successful completion of certain courses may help a student automatically transfer to a state university (see “transfer admission guarantee” below) or obtain a certificate of expertise in the area studied to qualify them for a particular job. Local community colleges include Mira Costa College, San Diego Community College District and others.

5. Admission to the California State University System (CSU): CSU admission requirements for California residents are a little different that the admission requirements for the University of California system (UC). CSU requires that the student has graduated from high school after taking and passing certain courses with a C or better in each course. Also, if a student is worried about poor test scores, Cal State Universities do not require test scores if the student’s GPA is above a 3.0 and the student is a resident of California. Click here for additional details. Applicants can easily apply to multiple campuses using the CSUMentor online program.

6. Guaranteed Admission from high school (“local admission guarantee”): CSU has entered into “memoranda of understanding” with several local school districts to “guarantee admission” of students who graduate from high school and who have met certain minimum CSU requirements and deadlines. Examples of districts having these agreements include: Carlsbad Unified, Fallbrook Union High School District, Oceanside Unified, San Marcos Unified, Valley Center-Pauma Unified, Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel. So, as long as the student meets the minimum GPA (3.0) and other CSU requirements (e.g. required high school courses), admission is guaranteed. See this memorandum for an example of the local admission guarantee requirements.

7. Transfer Admission Guarantees (TAG): CSU and seven campuses of the University of California system offer students in California community colleges guaranteed admission as a transfer student under certain circumstances. The UC campuses that offer guaranteed transfer admissions include Davis, Irvine, Merced, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.

The TAG program offers guaranteed transfer admission to students from all California Community Colleges if the UC TAG application is completed and submitted on time, the student has completed at least 30 semesters UC-transferable units at one or more California community colleges, and the last college the student attended in a regular session before admission was a California community college. For more details visit the following resources:

California State University TAG Program:

The University of California TAG information:

8. Postsecondary Options for Students with Significant Disabilities, TEACHING Exceptional Children, Nov/Dec 2002, p. 73, Grigal, M., Nebert, D, and Moon, M. (supported in part by the Office of Special Education/U.S. Dept. of Ed.). This informational resource provides a sample schedule on what a day at college may look like with a table to help create support teams.

9. Disability Support Programs and Services for the San Diego Community College District: These programs support students with disabilities work towards their academic and vocational goals through accommodations under section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and American with Disabilities Act. Specialized support services and assistive equipment are provided to eligible students. Colleges within the San Diego Community College District include: San Diego City College, San Diego Mesa College, San Diego Miramar College, San Diego Continuing and Education.

10. “Postsecondary Education Options for Students with Intellectual Disabilities”, Hart, D., Institute for Community Inclusion, 2006 (prepared through grants from the U.S. Dept. of Ed.)

11. “Beyond Basic Access: List of Universities accessible to students with Physical Disabilities.

12. College Guide for Students with Special Needs: “Directions - Lists factors to consider when deciding whether college is an appropriate option, websites for children with specific special needs (e.g. ADHD, Asperger’s, Autism, Deaf Students, Psychiatric disabilities, wheelchair friendly campuses and more), and many collegiate special ed support programs.

13. List of Colleges for children with special needs with strong support programs: This list, provided by "," not only lists college information but also a number of different posts that may be of interest (e.g. "10 Impressive Special College Programs for Students with Autism," "25 Incredible Technologies for the Learning Disabled" and more) and links to career descriptions for student exploration. Universities listed include: University of Iowa, W.V. Wesleyan College, Daemen College, Bellevue Community College, Gallaudet University (courses taught in ASL and English), Landmark College, Univ. of Arizona/Tucson, Drexel Univ., Mercyhurst College and more!

14. California College Pathways: Discusses college requirements and admission process in general.

15. “Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education – Know Your Rights and Responsibilities”: Publication from the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) for the U.S. Dept. of Education (2011). Rights of Students with Disabilities in Higher Education Publication:

16. Disabled Students Programs and Support can help a student succeed in college. Visit the websites of traditional 4-year and 2-year universities and colleges to learn about what supports are available. Websites of local institutions include:

17. “17 Great Colleges for Students with Special Needs (Friendship Circle blog with information on colleges).

18. Online Educational Options can enable a student to continue education at home. For students who would like to further their education within their home environment, there are countless online programs to help them work towards a degree or vocational certificate offered through public and private entities. Some programs offer “self paced online learning” modules that enable a student to learn at his or her own pace. Although there are typically no instructors available to help students, these programs may be helpful for students who are working full time, who have limited mobility or who otherwise are not able to attend a campus. Sample programs:

19. Vocational Schools: Through California’s “WorkAbility” program, many community colleges offer vocational services to students with disabilities as part of a partnership with the California Department of Rehabilitation. The WorkAbility program provides guidance to help students acquire the skills needed to obtain successful employment. See, e.g. the San Diego Community College District. The San Diego area is also rich with vocational opportunities for students who have specialized interests to earn certificates in areas such as aesthetics, accounting/office skills, automotive, business, child development, computers/technology, cooking, electronics/soldering, fashion and textiles, graphic reproduction, HVAC systems, health career training, metal fabrication, plumbing, upholstery, welding and more.

a. San Diego Continuing Education(for certificate programs that teach specialized skills in areas such as accounting, office skills, automotive, computers, culinary arts, electronics and soldering, HVAC systems, metal fabrication, plumbing, upholstery, welding and more); and
b. “Campus Explorer (for links to programs and colleges offering vocational programs).

20. Persons with intellectual disabilities may qualify for scholarships and student aide: Per the federal student aid office of the U.S. Dept. of Education, there are numerous programs that may provide student aid (e.g. the federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Federal Work Study Programs). There are also lists on line with scholarships for students with specific special needs (e.g. asthma, autism, cancer, crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis and more).

Examples of lists:
a. Special-Needs Scholarships; and
b. “5 Scholarships for Students with Learning Disabilities,” by Scholarship America for US News & World Report (Oct. 25, 2012) (for children with ADHD or dyslexia, etc.).

21. Learn more about Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Regional Occupation Programs: These programs are designed to help students successfully transition from secondary education to college and career through cooperative agreements with local school districts to create high level technical courses for juniors and seniors. For example in the San Dieguito Union High School District, the ROP office is located at the San Dieguito High School Academy and offers courses at Canyon Crest Academy, La Costa Canyon, San Dieguito High School Academy, Sunset High School and Torrey Pines High School. (Visit the California Ass’n of Regional Occupation Centers and Programs for more information.)

22. Review the CAROCP Resource and Tools for more information on colleges and universities, financial aid/scholarships and career planning.

23. The ARC of San Diego: ARC offers classroom instruction focused on communication, safety, money management, personal and social concerns, and life skills. Specialty courses are available in art, ASL, behavioral management, bilingual instruction, computers, cooking, geriatrics and self advocacy.

24. Free official source for college and career planning (explore colleges and careers, plan and pay for college, college admissions info, transfer information and more!)

25. Edupunks Guide: Has tutorials, 45 open learning resources for free textbooks, study aides, study groups, ideas on how to get into college, and more.

26. Private Transition Programs: Fusion Academy, Xcite Steps, and other organizations offer private transition programs that help with academic skill remediation, social connections, meal planning & shopping, employment preparation, money management, navigating college, independent living services, adult day programming and more. (Some entities, such as Xcite Steps, are Regional Center service providers so that the programs are funded by the Regional Center and free to the student).

Hopefully a review of the above information will expand the transition team's understanding of postsecondary educational options so that educational expectations of the student are increased!

Note: This author writes about information for the San Diego community so most of the resources focus on sources in southern California; however, the information will give readers outside of the San Diego area ideas on resources that may exist in their area.

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