Preparation and Planning for Postsecondary Education Programs
Preparation for postsecondary education programs must occur in recognition of what students will encounter within these environments. There will be new academic, social, as well as personal demands placed on young adults with disabilities as they participate. Their IEP/transition planning must serve as the primary means by which students receive appropriate levels of preparation for the transition to postsecondary education programs. Since the enactment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990, transition services have been a requirement of law for students who are 16 years of age, or younger if deemed appropriate by the IEP team. This law also requires that students take an active role as members of their IEP team and participate in decisions concerning their school and post-school services. The focus or content of the IEP itself is to include consideration of the student's need for instruction, community participation, the development of adult living skills, post-secondary education, and employment. The latest reauthorization of IDEA in 1997 expanded the requirements for transition services. In addition to transition services beginning at age 16, a statement of transition service needs is required at age 14. Beginning at age 14, and updated annually thereafter, the IEP team looks at the student's courses of study (such as advanced placement courses or vocational education courses) and determines whether or not courses of study are leading the student to where he or she needs to be upon graduation.
Preparation for the transition to postsecondary education programs thus begins early, or at least by age 14. It is at this age that discussions must occur regarding types of coursework students will need, at a minimum, to be eligible to enroll in postsecondary education programs. In many states, this means that students will need to fully participate and meet state graduate standards and exit exams. Discussions must also focus on the use of accommodations and supports that enable young people with disabilities to successfully participate in the general education curriculum. The students' IEP transition plans must identify the accommodations needed and review the effectiveness of these accommodations in achieving results on an annual basis. This is critically important for youth with disabilities who are planning to go on to postsecondary education programs. Many of the accommodations used by these students during their high school years will likely be needed as they participate in postsecondary education courses.
In addition to focusing on students' overall academic development, attention must also be focused on other skills they will need as they enter postsecondary education programs. One observation is that postsecondary students typically assume a major role with and responsibility for informing school officials of their disabilities, and communicating their needs for accommodations. While support services and special assistance are becoming increasingly available in postsecondary education institutions, the individual student still remains charged with much of the responsibility for initiating contact with these services to ensure that supports and accommodations are provided. An important part of preparing youth with disabilities for postsecondary education is to make sure that they have the skills necessary to negotiate the postsecondary education environment as independently as possible. Self-advocacy, self-determination, and personal decision-making skills are critically important skills for students with disabilities to develop before beginning their postsecondary education experience.
Additionally, a comprehensive plan that identifies the responsible agencies, methods of payment for tuition and related expenses, and accommodations required should be developed prior to the student's graduation from high school. Typically transition planning is handled by members of the IEP team, with involvement and support from other individuals on an as-needed basis. When planning toward postsecondary education environments, it is recommended that a representative of the postsecondary education program be consulted regarding the student's interest in enrolling. This can occur by inviting the postsecondary education representative to the IEP/transition planning meeting or visiting the postsecondary education program with the student to discuss individual career goals and possible support needs. The important point here is that the IEP/transition plan must, prior to graduation, identify the agencies responsible, the financial assistance and related support needed, and the types of accommodations individuals with disabilities may need to successfully participate in their postsecondary programs.
Excerpted from "The Transition to Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities"