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Think College!

Think College!

Postsecondary Education Options for Students with Intellectual Disabilities
Authors: Meg Grigal Ph.D., Debra Hart M.S.   Foreword Author: Madeleine C. Will   Chapter Authors: Amy Dwyre M.S., Laura T. Eiseman Ph.D., Janice Fialka, Meg Grigal Ph.D., Debra Hart M.S., Stephanie Smith Lee, Richard G. Luecking, Karen Doneker Mancini, Jerri Roach Ostergard, Maria Paiewonsky, Madeleine C. Will

ISBN: 978-1-55766-917-9
Pages: 344
Copyright: 2010
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Size:  7.0 x 10.0
Stock Number:  69179
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As the Higher Education Opportunity Act opens the door to more options and supports, more and more students with intellectual disabilities are "thinking college." That means high schools, colleges, and universities must be fully prepared to meet the needs of students with disabilities—and this comprehensive resource is just what they need. Developed by two of the most respected experts on this hot topic, this book uncovers the big picture of today's postsecondary options and reveals how to support students with disabilities before, during, and after a successful transition to college.

A critical resource for education professionals to read and share with families, Think College helps readers

  • understand the three current models for postsecondary education (PSE): inclusive individual supports; substantially separate, noninclusive classes; and hybrid approaches
  • overcome the common challenges and barriers to PSE for students with significant disabilities
  • plan effective, person-centered transition services for high school students as they pursue PSE
  • support students as they manage the practical aspects of a positive PSE experience
  • connect students' PSE experiences directly to employment and their other individual life goals
  • discover how exciting legislation and policy changes will affect future PSE options

Throughout the book, vignettes and first-person narratives from students and families underscore the benefits and challenges of PSE, and detailed profiles of real programs illustrate what a wide range of postsecondary options look like.

Readers will also get the helpful tools they need to create effective programs and ease students' transition to PSE, including a self-advocacy checklist, a program evaluation tool, sample student schedules, and a college-planning checklist for students and families.

With this thorough guide to today's PSE options and tomorrow's possibilities, professionals will help students with intellectual disabilities take full advantage of their educational opportunities—and set the stage for a successful, fulfilling community life.

Insights professionals need to help students

  • access college coursework
  • request accommodations
  • work well with faculty
  • set educational goals
  • assess progress
  • develop social relationships
  • evaluate employment opportunities
  • participate in work-based learning experiences
  • secure paid employment
  • and more
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Review: Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities
"Breaks new ground by sonsolidating what research has to offer in 2010 and provides a snapshot of the future."
Review: Quality Mall
Review: Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
"This book should be used by every high school and college professional working with students with ID and their families."
Review: Special Needs Children
"[An] encouraging read, especially when so many books about the transition from school to adulthood focus on the limitations that define this next stage of life for our kids."
Review: Book News, Inc.
Review by: George Jesien, Executive Director, Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)
"Tremendous . . . will become a milestone in the field filled with both concrete information and materials as well as a vision and plan for the future."
Review by: Paul Wehman, Ph.D., Professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Virginia Commonwealth University

"Rarely does a book come along that breaks totally new ground like Grigal and Hart have done in Think College. The material is state-of-the-art original, and highly creative in presenting strategies that work . . . A must read!"

Review by: Michael L. Wehmeyer, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Special Education; Director, Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities; Senior Scientist, Beach Center on Disability, University of Kansas
"One cannot read Think College and continue to ignore the importance of postsecondary education for students with intellectual disability, nor fail to appreciate the potential such options have to enable students with intellectual disability to live richer, fuller lives."
Review by: M. Sherril Moon, Ed.D., Professor, Department of Special Education, University of Maryland, College Park
"A very timely, comprehensive, and practitioner-friendly guide to implementing or improving postsecondary services for students with ID."

Table of Contents

About the Authors

About the Contributors




Chapter 1: Postsecondary Education: The Next Frontier for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities
Meg Grigal, Debra Hart, and Maria Paiewonsky

Chapter 2: The Role of Legislation, Advocacy, and Systems Change in Promoting Postsecondary Opportunities for Students with Intellectual Disabilities
Stephanie Smith Lee and Madeleine Will

Chapter 3: The Spectrum of Options—Current Practices
Debra Hart and Meg Grigal

Chapter 4: Local School System Perspectives
Maria Paiewonsky and Jerri Roach Ostergard

Chapter 5: College Perspectives and Issues
Laura Eisenman and Karen Mancini

Chapter 6: Student and Family Perspectives
Amy Dwyre, Meg Grigal, and Janice Fialka

Chapter 7: Critical Components for Planning and Implementing Dual Enrollment and Other Postsecondary Education Experiences
Meg Grigal and Debra Hart

Chapter 8: The Missing Link: The Importance of Employment

Meg Grigal and Debra Hart

Chapter 9: Preparing for What? Postsecondary Education Employment and Community Participation
Richard Luecking

Chapter 10: What the Future Holds
Meg Grigal and Debra Hart


Excerpted from Think College! Postsecondary Education Options for Students with Intellectual Disabilities
By Meg Grigal, Ph.D., and Debra Hart, M.Ed.
© 2010. Brookes Publishing. All rights reserved.


Recently, I was asked to serve as an “expert” on postsecondary education (PSE) options for student’s intellectual disabilities (ID) at a national event. I met with various groups of individuals and answered their questions regarding how to implement or improve postsecondary education access for students with intellectual disabilities in their states. One man said to me, “Yeah, I understand why students might want to take weight training or aerobics. But what is a kid like this gonna get out of taking an art history class? Why should we waste our time setting that up?”

This is not an unusual question. ... Actually, it’s probably one of the best places to start when having a conversation about the reason for offering students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to access postsecondary education. What’s the point? Most students with intellectual disabilities will not be going to college to get a degree. Many, if not most, will not have received a high school diploma. So then why would we “waste our time” giving students like this a chance to attend a college course—especially on a topic as esoteric as art history?

The answer to this question is that the purpose of providing students with intellectual disabilities access to PSE is not limited to simply getting a student into a class, or the student learning the content of the course. While these elements are both important, the bigger picture has less to do with the classes students take and more to do the outcomes that are possible when students with ID are afforded the opportunity to access college experiences. And by college experiences, I am not referring solely to taking classes at a college. The college experience is comprised of a wide array of possible experiences; some social, some academic, and some employment. These experiences will likewise be unique for every individual who attends college. There is not one right way to do it. A student’s experience will reflect their personal needs and goals. Some students will take many classes, while others choose to go part-time. Some students seek skills that will lead to employment; others may want to explore a new area of personal interest. It is in this aspect that college environments provide an array of experiences that most students with intellectual disabilities are not afforded during their tenure in public school; the chance to explore, define, and redefine personal goals related to adult learning, employment, and social connections.

Students with and without disabilities go through their primary and secondary school years taking a prescribed course of study. High school provides a few limited opportunities for students to choose a course or an elective, but even those elective classes are designed for the young adult learner—where the student is a passive respondent. Students with intellectual disabilities will likely have even fewer choices in their course options than their peers without or with other disabilities. They may be included in a variety of general education courses, but may not have much choice in which ones they can attend. They might be limited to the life skills or functional academic courses that are provided to students with significant support needs in their school district. Regardless of the type of courses they attend, all of these high school options come with a strict set of guidelines. They are provided in a high school setting; a bell will signal you when to go to class and when to leave class. The teacher provides a set of expected outcomes, and in most cases, will make all necessary modification or accommodations without any input or requests from a student. This is how high school students with intellectual disabilities are expected to learn.

The employment experiences of students with intellectual disabilities are often just as teacher directed. Most students participate in job tryouts or training experiences that they rotate through that are not connected with the student’s coursework, interests, skills, or—most importantly—to a paid job that they are trying to obtain. These employment preparation experiences prepare students for adult employment experiences about as well as their high school preparation experiences prepare them to go to college. The traditional transition experiences of students with intellectual disabilities have not been demonstrated to produce great outcomes for students in adulthood. But given the opportunity, access, and support—students with ID who receive transition services in college settings can have great outcomes. Using the college campus as the platform for their education, students can learn how to access education as an adult, learn how to connect this education to a paid job, and learn how to navigate between jobs like all other adults. The option of postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities is ultimately just good transition planning. It allows students to engage in adult learning and working environments within a context of support and guidance. It also lays the groundwork for students to obtain the skills necessary for them to continue to access learning throughout their adult lives.

In today’s public special education system, students with intellectual disabilities (and their families) are not provided with the expectation that students should continue to access adult learning after they leave high school. In most cases, students with ID have not been introduced to the possibility of attending college, or any kind of postsecondary education—academic, continuing education, or otherwise. The staff person in high school who is generally the gatekeeper to college is most often a guidance counselor. However, students with ID seldom have access to a guidance counselor. As a result, it is unlikely for students with ID to be presented with information about potential postsecondary education opportunities in their community.

Instead, the transition component of the IEP under postsecondary education goals will likely say “not applicable.” The student with ID and their family will be referred to the state vocational rehabilitation center, and perhaps the state developmental disabilities agency. If the student is lucky, he or she will be assigned to an adult service provider who will find them a job in the community. But as the latest statistics on transition outcomes for youth with ID will indicate, most of these youth will remain unemployed or under employed. And most will not engage in any kind of adult learning, whether at a college or in other community adult education settings.

In our current system of education, people with intellectual disabilities are expected to stop learning in any formal way at the ripe old age of 21. Imagine, if you will, if you had stopped learning after high school. No classes at college, no professional development days, no workshops or conferences. We often lament the poor post-school outcomes of students with intellectual disabilities. However, we never seem to make the connection that the system does not support students with intellectual disabilities to learn anything after they leave high school.

How successful would the general population be if all learning ended after high school? The current rate of unemployment for individuals who graduated from high school is twice that of those who graduated from college. Going to college is and always has been connected to greater rates of employment and higher wages. It is likely given the opportunity, and the means to document the outcomes, that students with intellectual disabilities would mirror these trends.

The purpose of exposing students with intellectual disabilities to PSE is to provide them, for perhaps the first time in their lives, the expectation that they CAN learn after leaving high school and the opportunity to CHOOSE to learn. Due to the nature and structure of high school, students with ID are seldom provided the chance to choose what they want to learn about. Nor are they given guidance about how to access knowledge as an adult. Choosing to learn about something is a process that takes some skills. First, a person must identify what it feels like to want to learn about something and know that there are places that that knowledge can be found. College is a great place to find out what interests you and the types of classes that are available on various topics. But it is not enough to know what is out there; you need to know how to access it.

How do you gain access to adult learning environments? Are they all the same? Is the process of registering for a basic math class at a community college the same as signing up to take a water aerobics class through your local park and recreation department? The flexible nature of a college setting allows students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to learn about the various types of adult education and means through which each can be accessed. Students with ID can register for courses at the college for audit or for credit, or take a continuing education course, or sign up for one of the many adult classes that are available in the community through county or city programs or in local home improvement stores such as Home Depot or Michaels Arts and Crafts. It is important to recognize that students who participate in programs located on college campuses are not limited to taking classes at that college.

Finally, it is important to apply the learning in your life. Were the skills gained from a class useful to you on your job? Will they help you get a better job? Are you learning to be a better listener, writer, or thinker as a result of your class? Or perhaps the class was to explore a new area of interest. Are you still interested in the topic? Do you want to find out more? What other opportunities exist to do this? I think it’s especially important not to assign judgment to the type of education that someone desires. If you want to learn how to speak French, great. If you want to learn how to tile your bathroom floor, great. Do you know where to learn these skills and can you apply them in your life? That is the measure of a successful learner. Many might respond with “Well, what if they fail?” or “Students with intellectual disabilities aren’t going to do well in college classes.” And it some cases this may in fact be true. Some students will fail. And yet when do we learn more about ourselves than when we fail? I can guarantee that every person reading this book right now has failed at something. Maybe at a number of things. But you managed to rally, hopefully apply the lessons learned, and move on. As Oscar Wilde says, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” And I’m sure we all have a number of college “experiences” that served to teach us a thing or two.

And so we revisit our friend’s question, “what’s the point?” The point is to give students with intellectual disabilities who have the desire to learn, the skills and the expectations to do so, and continue doing so throughout their lifetime. The term lifelong learner is bandied about pretty frequently. But what does that mean? To be a lifelong learner? It means that you know how to access desired knowledge about a topic. In order to support students with intellectual disabilities to become lifelong learners we must arm them with the skills to access desired knowledge. We must also provide them with the experiences to practice these skills so that when they are 25, 30, 35, or 40 years old, and determine that they want to learn something that they know what to do. We set PSE as an expectation early on for the student and their family. We talk about the prospect of college and other forms of adult education and determine what kinds of opportunities might be available to them.

So why should we waste our time getting a young person with intellectual disabilities into an art history class? Let’s review just some of the information that would be needed for a young woman with intellectual disabilities to take an art history class:

  • Where in the community do they offer art history?
  • How does she register for classes?
  • What is a bursar?
  • Are there prerequisites?
  • What is the schedule?
  • Does it work with her work schedule?
  • How will she get to and from class?
  • What kind of help will she need in the class to be successful?

Yet the lessons learned are not limited to what is needed to access a class. Being enrolled in an art history class will also give this young woman a chance to set goals, to advocate for herself with a professor and possibly an employer. She will be immersed in a class that she finds personally fulfilling. She will meet others who are also interested in the topic, and will make acquaintances—if not friends— with a mutual interest. She will determine not only if the content of the course is right for her, but if the method in which the course is taught works for her. This knowledge may influence the type of courses she takes in the future. She will be exposed to the ebb and flow of the college workload, the rhythm of a college class lecture, and get a feel for when it’s ok to ask questions, when and how to take notes, or how to ask a friend or a professor for a copy of the notes. All of these skills will ultimately allow her to be more successful in other realms of her life—in her job, with her friends, as she makes her way in the community.

There are a great deal of skills required to access adult learning opportunities. And there are very few chances for students with intellectual disabilities to learn those skills in high school or as adults. Transition services has for many years been defined almost primarily around employment and the transition from school to work. And this is a vital aspect of transition. We all believe in the power of integrated community employment as a hugely successful outcome for students. But none of us expect a student to exit school with a paid job with benefits if that student has never had a job tryout, some training, and some experiences in the world of work. So how can we expect a student with intellectual disabilities to know how to access any kind of adult learning option, if we have not given him or her opportunity to sample what adult learning is about?

Students with ID need to be given the chance to experience adult learning while we are still in the position of providing support and guidance. Our transition outcomes do not have to be limited to “does this student have a job?” and “Are they connected with an adult service provider?” Our goals can also include “Can this student, if he or she wants to, access the adult learning options in their community?” Just as we teach them the process of obtaining and keeping a job and the necessary process of changing jobs, we must teach them that their learning needs and desires may change as they mature. And that the skills to access learning are ones that they can use for a lifetime. I think that college doesn’t give anything special to students with ID, instead I think it gives them something that everyone else that goes to college gets; the opportunity to learn about yourself, get a better job, and quite possible grow up a little bit.

Who knew an art history class had so much to offer?

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