Postsecondary Education Landscape
Students with intellectual disabilities have made significant progress under current federal education law (i.e., Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), formerly called No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)). Today, there are over 250 two and four-year colleges and universities including 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.
The increasing numbers of such programs and postsecondary opportunities reflect the strong need for a variety of postsecondary education options for this population of students. These students should have access to postsecondary education, and the resulting employment and independent living opportunities, just as their non-disabled peers do. NDSS has developed a comprehensive approach to promoting postsecondary opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities.
NDSS Transition & Postsecondary Education Initiative
The NDSS Transition and Postsecondary Education Initiative has strategically promoted inclusive postsecondary opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities for ten years, with generous support from the Riggio family. Currently, NDSS is focused on the following federal priorities to expand the number of programs and access for students with Down syndrome:
- Ensuring there is appropriate implementation of the financial aid provisions in the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA)
- Protecting appropriations funding for the model demonstration projects to develop and expand transition and postsecondary model programs
- Expanding the number of inclusive postsecondary opportunities through providing information and technical assistance and working with other national organizations and federal agencies to identify the next steps needed to increase postsecondary opportunities
Although the HEOA was signed into law in 2008, only a limited number of colleges and universities have received the approval needed for students to receive financial aid and work study jobs. NDSS has made progress in strongly encouraging the US Department of Education to take steps to improve and speed up the program approval process and to provide information to families, programs and financial aid offices. A new US Department of Education federal student aid website includes a webpage with helpful information for students with intellectual disabilities about financial aid and a list of the approved programs.
NDSS Postsecondary Education Successes
Throughout its history, NDSS has successfully accomplished the following in the area of postsecondary education:
- Advocated for national research and technical assistance projects in the US Department of Education and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities
- Developed two postsecondary education programs in New Jersey and, in collaboration with the College Transition Connection, five programs in South Carolina
- Provided technical assistance to local Down syndrome organizations in many states, including: OH, TN, IL, NC, CA, TX, IN, WI, MD, KS, MS, NY and MO, including helping organize successful state-level efforts to develop postsecondary programs
- Provided technical assistance to families and colleges and presentations at state and national conferences
- Spearheaded a successful effort to amend the HEOA to allow financial aid for students with intellectual disabilities and authorize model demonstration projects and a national coordinating center, with important support from the Taishoff Foundation
- Secured $11 million in the annual L-HHS-Ed appropriations bills to fund model demonstration programs and coordinating center for each of two fiscal years
- Sponsored the national State of the Art Conferences on Postsecondary Education and Students with Intellectual Disabilities with George Mason University
Postsecondary Education in the Press