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Ask A REL Response

July 2019


What research has been conducted on evidence-based practices or programs for supporting special education students at postsecondary institutions?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on evidence-based practices or programs for supporting special education students at postsecondary institutions. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed evidence-based practices or programs for supporting special education students at postsecondary institutions. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist."

Research References

  1. Baker, J. N., Lowrey, K. A., & Wennerlind, K. R. (2018). Building an inclusive post-secondary education program for young adults with intellectual developmental disability. Physical Disabilities: Education and Related Services, 37(2), 13-33.
    From the abstract: "Since the reauthorization of The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) in 2008, postsecondary programs that include individuals with intellectual developmental disability have seen a phenomenal increase. In 2015, a National Coordinating Center along with 52 Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) were created and funded through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education. Currently, 267 programs are listed on the National Coordinating Center's website. This is an increase in programs by 500% compared to the number in 2008. As more programs are created with many of them being grass roots initiatives, a basic framework to beginning and supporting these endeavors has been identified. The purpose of this article is to provide a framework to assist those interested in beginning their own inclusive program at an institution of higher education for students with intellectual developmental disability."
  2. Folk, E. D. R., Yamamoto, K. K., & Stodden, R. A. (2012). Implementing inclusion and collaborative teaming in a model program of postsecondary education for young adults with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 9(4), 257-269.
    From the abstract: "In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education announced an initiative to improve transitioning to postsecondary education (PSE) for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) by funding the model comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) program. The TPSID provides for grants to create or expand inclusive comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs for students with ID. The authors provide a descriptive report of one such TPSID-funded demonstration in the state of Hawai'i and share preliminary feedback from student participants, agency and institutional partners, and project staff. The authors' interviews with the participants and collaborators provided insights and perspectives of the challenges inherent in implementing such a demonstration model. They found that student participants with ID, who were culturally and linguistically diverse, relished the opportunity to participate in PSE and were motivated by the opportunity to learn, meet new people, and contribute to their families. Interagency partners valued the process and benefits of interagency teaming, with most reporting that participating in collaborative teaming resulted in a shift in their views on inclusion of students with ID in PSE. The authors concluded that the implementation of an inclusive PSE transition model can be a transformative process for students with ID, PSE institutions, and support agencies. Furthermore, that collaborative interagency teaming is a powerful method to inform and empower the implementation of change and stimulate and facilitate new opportunities and approaches to improve transition outcomes for students with ID. (Contains 8 tables, 1 figure and 1 footnote.)"
  3. Hafner, D., Moffatt, C., & Kisa, N. (2011). Cutting-edge: Integrating students with intellectual and developmental disabilities into a 4-year liberal arts college. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 34(1), 18-30.
    From the abstract: "Cutting-Edge provides inclusion in college for students with intellectual disabilities (SWID). Cutting-Edge students attended college by taking undergraduate courses, resided in student housing, and engaged in student-life events as well as pursued community service, internships and employment. Undergraduate students were the best means to teach Cutting-Edge students about appropriate social activities and interactions. Undergraduate students were paired with Cutting-Edge students as peer mentors to teach Cutting-Edge students how to fit into the social network on campus. While attending the college, 79% of Cutting-Edge students lived away from their parents. Undergraduate students were surveyed about how comfortable they feel about being around SWID, and 96% indicated they either felt comfortable (59%) or very comfortable (37%). (Contains 7 figures and 2 tables.)"
  4. Kirkendall, A., Doueck, H. J., & Saladino, A. (2009). Transitional services for youth with developmental disabilities: Living in college dorms. Research on Social Work Practice, 19(4), 434-445.
    From the abstract: "This study evaluates the impact of a college-based dormitory program on transitioning youth with intellectual disabilities. A qualitative study, with interviews at pre and post, was conducted to evaluate the program's impact. Data were collected with semistructured interviews from young adults with intellectual disabilities who participated in a college-based residential program and their parents or guardians. Three general themes emerged from the data: Participants reported experiences that were (a) typical of normative life transitions, (b) typical of growing pains associated with significant life transitions and learning new skills, and (c) one step forward. Results indicate that the experience of living away from home for the first time was in some ways comparable to that of a typical college student. Improvement in life skills, including increased awareness of personal goals, enhanced vocational goals, increased maturity or assertiveness, was reported. Respondents were generally satisfied with the program."
  5. Moore, E. J., & Schelling, A. (2015). Postsecondary inclusion for individuals with an intellectual disability and its effects on employment. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 19(2), 130-148.
    From the abstract: "Postsecondary education (PSE) programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities (IDs) have emerged exponentially in the United States over the last decade. Research regarding these postsecondary programs has largely been descriptive, and thus, there exists a need for qualitative, outcome-based research. In this comparative case report, graduates from two types of PSE programs for individuals with IDs are surveyed regarding employment outcomes and other personal developments. The results from each postsecondary program are compared with one another and also with a comparison group of individuals with IDs who did not attend a postsecondary program (utilizing the 2009 National Longitudinal Transition Study 2). This case demonstrates significant positive employment outcomes for individuals with IDs who attend postsecondary programs compared to those who do not attend such programs and highlights similarities and differences regarding outcomes of the two program types under consideration."
  6. Plotner, A. J., & Marshall, K. J. (2015). Postsecondary education programs for students with an intellectual disability: Facilitators and barriers to implementation. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 53(1), 58-69.
    From the abstract: "Financial, legislative, and philosophical support for postsecondary education (PSE) programs for individuals with intellectual disability has resulted in great increases in the number of such programs across the country. Directors of new PSE programs have few research-based guidelines to provide direction for integrating programs within colleges or universities. In this study, we survey administrators of PSE programs for individuals with intellectual disability across the United States in order to identify perceptions of supports and barriers encountered during program development. We also investigated if these supports or barriers changed over time or varied according to type of program. Results suggest that most perceived barriers and supports, with the exception of funding issues, improved over time. Further, there was a significant difference in perceived support from six of the nine identified institutions of higher education IHE collaborative partners from the inception of the program to the present time."
  7. Thoma, C. A., Lakin, K. C., Carlson, D., Domzal, C., Austin, K., & Boyd, K. (2011). Participation in postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities: A review of the literature 2001-2010. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(3), 175-191.
    From the abstract: "Various forms of participation in postsecondary education by students with intellectual disabilities have received increased attention from the field of special education over the past decade. This review of literature from 2001 through 2010 builds on a similar review conducted by Neubert, Moon, Grigal and Redd (2001) to determine whether there have been changes in the types of programs offered, whether participation in various degrees of postsecondary education results in improved outcomes for individuals with intellectual disabilities, and whether the evidence indicates that postsecondary education is a preferred outcome to other transition outcomes. This review found that postsecondary education for individuals with intellectual disabilities has increasingly been defined as programs for students in the 18-21 year old age range who continue to receive educational services from their local school districts. The literature provides more details about program design and implementation and describes services across state, regional, and national levels. Few studies to date have attempted to determine participant outcomes. A discussion of the strengths and limitations of this body of literature are provided as well as recommendations for next steps for the field."
  8. Venville, A., Mealings, M., Ennals, P., Oates, J., Fossey, E., Douglas, J., & Bigby, C. (2016). Supporting students with invisible disabilities: A scoping review of postsecondary education for students with mental illness or an acquired brain injury. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 63(6), 571-592.
    From the abstract: "Students with invisible disabilities such as mental illness or acquired brain injury (ABI) experience multiple barriers that reduce their likelihood of postsecondary course completion. The present study conducted a systematic search of research reporting interventions for students experiencing mental illness or ABI to participate in postsecondary education. Nine databases were searched and a framework for categorising interventions and outcomes was developed. Forty-two studies revealed that most interventions were focused at the individual student level aiming to support students to build skills, grow confidence, or compensate for challenges through educational adjustments. There was wide diversity in research approaches used and a dearth of rigorous research designs. This review offers a more consistent way to define interventions and outcomes to guide future research and facilitate more meaningful comparisons between studies. The impacts of specific interventions on students' attainment of qualifications and subsequent workforce participation need further investigation."

Additional Organizations to Consult

  1. National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) -
    From the website: "NIDILRR's mission is to generate new knowledge and to promote its effective use to improve the abilities of individuals with disabilities to perform activities of their choice in the community, and to expand society's capacity to provide full opportunities and accommodations for its citizens with disabilities."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Supporting special education students at postsecondary institutions
  • Post-secondary programs for students with disabilities

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.