In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Supporting Students With Intellectual and Developmental Disability in Postsecondary Education
  • Andrew Scheef (bio), Aleksandra Hollingshead (bio), and Brenda Barrio (bio)

Following a sustained increase in the number of inclusive educational experiences in K–12 settings (U.S. Department of Education, 2019), higher education institutions (HEIs) are offering opportunities for students with intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) to engage in inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE; Think College, 2019). Although many students with mild disabilities (e.g., learning disabilities or ADHD) are able to succeed in college with disability support services, these supports are not enough for individuals with IDD. As a result, IPSE opportunities may be available to students with any number of conditions that make traditional entrance requirements unattainable (e.g., Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder).

Postsecondary education opportunities for students with IDD can be traced back to the 1970s (Neubert, Grigal, Moon, & Redd, 2001) and are currently offered at more than 270 HEIs (Think College, 2019). The reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA, 2008) provided the foundation for significant growth of IPSE. Most notably, the HEOA outlined a process by which schools offering postsecondary education opportunities for students with IDD can obtain a comprehensive transition program status, which makes students eligible for need-based federal financial aid (with the exception of student loans). Through this and other provisions, the HEOA has provided increased credibility and legitimacy to IPSE. Among multiple examples of high-quality IPSE opportunities in the US, some of the larger and more established exist at Clemson University (ClemsonLIFE), University of Iowa (UI REACH), Syracuse University (InclusiveU) and Vanderbilt University (Next Steps).

Some IPSE offerings provide services that are substantially separate from the courses and services accessed by those students not accessing disability support services; these include specialized programs that are designed for and offered only to students with IDD (Hart, Mele-McCarthy, Pasternack, Zimbrich, & Parker, 2004). Such courses may focus on skill development in areas of need commonly associated with individuals with IDD (e.g., independent living, social skills, vocational skills, self-determination). Although these programs may initially appear to be an effective way to support students with IDD in HEI settings, the lack of engagement with peers without disabilities limits the extent to which these offerings are actually inclusive. Thus, there is an increased emphasis on providing opportunities for students with IDD to enroll [End Page 528] in the same courses as their peers (Grigal, Hart, & Weir, 2011; HEOA, 2008). With this in mind, the purpose of this article is to provide recommendations for HEI staff and faculty to increase course accessibility for students with IDD.


For higher education institutions, IPSE offers an additional opportunity to develop a diverse student body (Izzo & Shuman, 2013). Experiences with diverse individuals are especially important for young adults, because they are in the process of developing self-identity and an understanding of the world (Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, & Gurin, 2002). Although many HEIs may not include disability as a dimension of diversity (Scheef, Caniglia, & Barrio, 2020), a student body that represents a cross-section of the population should include students with IDD. Faculty generally have favorable attitudes toward IPSE, and these may increase after leading a classroom that includes students with IDD (Plotner & Marshall, 2015). Faculty who lead inclusive courses may experience a multitude of benefits, including an increased sense of job satisfaction and a more positive classroom climate (O'Connor, Kubiak, Espiner, & O'Brien, 2012).

Students with IDD who engage in inclusive opportunities reap many benefits, including, but not limited to, improved independent living skills, social skills, community access, self-advocacy skills, and employability (Grigal, Hart, Smith, Papay, & Domin, 2018). Uditsky and Hughson (2012) frame IPSE as a moral imperative rooted in social justice; it offers students with IDD the same traditional college experience opportunities as their peers without IDD. Students without IDD who attend postsecondary education institutions that support IPSE are more likely to accept their peers with IDD and to benefit from the experience (e.g., increased comfort with people with disabilities, enhanced self-esteem, greater awareness of career interests; Izzo & Shuman, 2013; May, 2012).


Following are recommendations for course instructors who are leading classrooms that include students...