MAIER Transition to Adulthood Training Modules: Part 6 - Planning for Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary education is an essential requirement for the majority of jobs and careers in the 21st century. Although this can include traditional four-year college programs, postsecondary education also includes vocational training, career and technical education, and other options connected with career-specific credentials. For many decades, an ill-informed mindset existed that led to students being tracked into specific trajectories based on whether they were headed for college or non-college pathways. We now know that this is not the case and that postsecondary education benefits all individuals in terms of their career development, income, and independence.

Expert interview

Postsecondary education is an essential means of pursuing students’ career aspirations and developing key academic, social, and independent living skills. Transition and education postsecondary experts Dr. Lauren Avellone and Dr. Holly Whittenburg sat down for an interview with us to discuss the importance of postsecondary education and how we can make it a reality for students with disabilities.


In particular, students with intellectual disability have more opportunities than ever to enroll in postsecondary education opportunities thanks to federal policy and funding directed toward creating Comprehensive Transition Programs (CTPs) and Transition Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSIDs) at universities and colleges across the country. Along with these programs, policy has opened up more financial aid and funding for students with intellectual disability to access college and postsecondary education.

Exploration Activity

Think College is a national resource focused on promoting postsecondary education for people with intellectual disabilities. The resource page linked below contains information about specific programs across the country, what we know from the research, specific topics related to college and education options, and much more. Make sure to check out their videos with participants with disabilities sharing their personal experiences in postsecondary education programs, as well as their state-specific news and information pages.


Although the expansion of postsecondary education programs and funding are an important part of providing opportunity for youth with disabilities, there is work to be done while students are still in high school to make sure that they are set up for success in accessing postsecondary education. First and foremost, inclusion in academic classes with peers without disabilities is one of the strongest predictors of success in higher education. Not only do students with disabilities have the right to learn meaningful academic content and the ability to do so, being part of typical and inclusive learning environments benefits all students.

As we mentioned previously, self-determination is critical to all areas of transition planning, including postsecondary education. This includes self-awareness, decision and choice making, and all those specific skills we discussed in Part 2. However, in college and postsecondary education settings, students with disabilities must take on additional responsibilities by self-disclosing their disability, engaging with the university disability services office, and advocating for needed accommodations. Since this represents a significant shift from K-12 special education service delivery, we must provide opportunities for students to advocate in these ways prior to graduation.

In the next section, we’ll discuss the third main area of transition planning– independent living. This section will touch on not only living arrangements, but also how we can support youth in being meaningfully engaged in their communities beyond just work and school. Click here to proceed to Part 7.