The leading human rights organization for all individuals with Down syndrome.

National Down Syndrome Society
8 E 41st Street, 8th Floor
New York New York 10017
[email protected] 

Postsecondary Education

Overview and Landscape for Postsecondary Education

NDSS believes in the importance of expanding high-quality transition and postsecondary opportunities for people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. All students should have access to postsecondary education, and the resulting employment and independent living opportunities. Studies have shown that students with intellectual disabilities (including Down syndrome) who participate in postsecondary education are more likely to excel in academics and employment and achieve greater levels of independence. 

Today, there are approximately 250 two and four-year colleges and universities that include students with intellectual disabilities in educational, independent living and vocational/career programs. Students receive a variety of supports and are typically provided opportunities to participate in traditional college classes with support. They also may participate in internships and other vocational opportunities and participate in college campus life, including belonging to clubs and living in dormitories.

A cornerstone of NDSS’ involvement with postsecondary education is the O’Neill Tabani Enrichment Fund, which provides financial assistance to young adults with Down syndrome who are at least 18 years old who wish to enroll in postsecondary programs or take enrichment classes that will help them to enhance life through employment, independent living skills and life skills. The O'Neill Tabani Enrichment Fund has provided grants for postsecondary education to students with Down syndrome since 2005.

Looking for Postsecondary Education

There are more and more individuals with Down syndrome pursuing postsecondary education after high school. The avenues through which these students pursue postsecondary education vary greatly and may include attending college through specialized programs for people with intellectual disabilities or attending community and other local college classes for audit and/or credit.

If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing postsecondary education, the earlier you start to do research and plan, the more likely you and your family will be to find a program that works best for your wishes and needs.

For more information about the different types of programs that are available and to see if there are opportunities near your home, please visit Think College, an excellent website with information about current programs that includes a searchable database and informative videos. This website includes resources for students, parents and professionals.

NDSS Federal Priorities

NDSS collaborates with Think College and other organizations to promote policies that facilitate the development of robust postsecondary programs nationwide. 

Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA)

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) (PL 110-315) was enacted in August 2008, reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965. This law contains a number of provisions related to postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities including:

TPSID provides grants to institutions of higher education or consortia of institutions of higher education to enable them to create or expand high quality, inclusive model comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities.  TPSID grantees receive support, coordination, training and evaluation services from Think College, which has been designated as the National Coordinating Center, supporting the growth and enhancement of postsecondary options for students with intellectual disabilities across the US.

The HEOA is expected to come up for reauthorization in the next Congress. NDSS will be actively involved in advocating for a reauthorization bill that will strengthen and expand postsecondary opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. 

NDSS’ Historical Successes 

Historically, NDSS has been a leader in promoting postsecondary opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. NDSS’ past accomplishments include:

  • Spearheading the Riggio Transition and Postsecondary Education Initiative, a highly successful ten year strategic initiative to expand inclusive postsecondary education opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, made possible by a generous support from the Riggio family
  • Advocating for national research and technical assistance projects in the US Department of Education and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities
  • Developing two postsecondary education programs in New Jersey and, in collaboration with the College Transition Connection, five programs in South Carolina
  • Providing technical assistance to local Down syndrome organizations in many states (OH, TN, IL, NC, CA, TX, IN, WI, MD, KS, MS, NY and MO) including helping to organize successful state-level efforts to develop postsecondary programs
  • Providing technical assistance to families and colleges and presenting at state and national conferences
  • Spearheading a successful effort to amend the HEOA to allow financial aid for students with intellectual disabilities and authorizing model demonstration projects and a National Coordinating Center, with important support from the Taishoff Foundation
  • Securing $11 million in the annual L-HHS-Ed appropriations bills to fund model demonstration programs and coordinating center for each of two fiscal years
  • Sponsoring the national State of the Art Conferences on Postsecondary Education and Students with Intellectual Disabilities with George Mason University

For More Information

For more information, please contact NDSS at [email protected].



External Resources

  • Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) - A professional membership organization for individuals involved in the development of policy and in the provision of quality services to meet the needs of persons with disabilities involved in all areas of higher education
  • Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD) - A network of interdisciplinary centers advancing policy and practice for and with individuals with developmental and other disabilities, their families and communities
  • Federal Student Aid, US Department of Education - Information regarding federal student aid available to students with intellectual disabilities including a list of approved programs
  • HEATH Resource Center - A national clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities, managed by The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development
  • Institute for Community Inclusion - Supports the rights of children and adults with disabilities to participate in all aspects of the community
  • On-Campus Outreach at the University of Maryland - Supporting transition best practices in post-secondary settings for students with significant disabilities
  • The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa - Works towards a new system of educational supports for people with disabilities, encouraging postsecondary programs to foster high expectations, build self-confidence and develop an understanding of strengths and weaknesses of all students
  • Think College - An excellent website for information about current postsecondary programs that includes a searchable database, informative videos and other information geared toward students, parents and professionals
  • TransCen, Inc. - A nonprofit organization that since 1986 has been developing creative and innovative projects in school to work transition, education systems change and employment for people with disabilities
  • Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) - A program of the US Department of Education that provides grants to institutions of higher education or consortia of institutions of higher education to enable them to create or expand high quality, inclusive model comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities
  • The Transition Coalition - Located at the University of Kansas Beach Center on Disability, the Transition Coalition seeks to maximize professional development opportunities for secondary transition and college and career readiness of youth with disabilities


  • The Down Syndrome Transition Handbook. Simons, Jo Ann. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House (2010)
  • Life Beyond the Classroom: Transition Strategies for Young People with Disabilities, 5th edition. Wehman, Paul. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing. (2012)
  • Life Learning Is For Everyone: The True Story of How South Carolina Came to be a Leader in Providing Opportunities for Postsecondary Education to Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities. Bailey, Donald. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse. (2012)
  • Think College!: Postsecondary Education Options for Students with Intellectual Disabilities. Grigal, Meg, and Hart, Debra, with forward by Will, Madeleine. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing. (2009)
  • The Power to Spring Up: Postsecondary Education Opportunities for Students with Significant Disabilities. Katovitch, Diana. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House (2009)


Page last updated: September 27, 2016

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