Successful Transitions for All Blog Series

Successful Transitions for All Blog Series - Introduction: Improving Systems to Better Prepare Students for Successful Secondary Transition Experiences

Expect, Engage, Empower: Successful Transitions for All!

Introductory Blog Post

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts on secondary transition from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).

We are dedicated to working alongside families, students, educators, advocacy groups and policymakers to rethink transition services. We want students and families to have the tools and resources necessary for successful secondary transition experiences.

As the leaders of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), we have strong perspectives on this important topic. To improve transition planning and transition services we believe that:

  1. The education and vocational rehabilitation systems must work together,
  2. Critical discussions about the future and transition planning process must start sooner, and
  3. ALL students with disabilities should have the opportunity to learn about all post-secondary opportunities and make the best choice for themselves.

Collectively, let’s focus on how we can better prepare our students to successfully access postsecondary education, training and real-world experiences after they leave high school. To do this, transition conversations and planning must be meaningful, student-centered and integrated into meetings from the early stages of a student’s education.

We know firsthand the critical importance of encouraging families, educators and other stakeholders to consider and plan for long-term life outcomes early and revisit these plans regularly. That is why we are so passionate about the need to explore postsecondary goals and desired life outcomes with students as they progress throughout their school years. By doing so, they will be better positioned to achieve their common goal of gaining meaningful school experiences that will result in lifetimes of fulfillment and independence.

Let’s look at the data, resources and initiatives that show us where we are and where we need to go.

Students with disabilities continue to trail their peers without disabilities in a range of postsecondary outcomes, such as attending college, becoming employed and living independently. To track these data, states submit to OSEP in their annual performance report data on post-school outcomes for students with disabilities who have exited high school. Data from 2019 and 2020 showed us that we still have a long way to go to improve postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. For example, we see that:

  • During the 2019–2020 school year, only 23% of responding students with disabilities reported enrolling in higher education immediately after graduating or exiting from high school.
  • Also, during the 2019–2020 school year, only 57% of responding students with disabilities reported participating in either higher education or competitive employment upon graduating or exiting from high school.
  • Between the 2018–2019 and 2019–2020 school years, there was a decline in the percentages of students with disabilities attending higher education or attaining competitive employment, which may be, in part, attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data are corroborated by labor force statistics from other stakeholders. For example:

  • In 2022, the Association of People Supporting Employment First released data indicating that nearly 70,000 Americans with disabilities reported earning subminimum wages under 14(c) certificates in 2020.
  • Also in 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data indicating that individuals with disabilities were employed at less than one third the rate of individuals without disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Education continues to demonstrate its support and investment in postsecondary transition by funding the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition: The Collaborative to provide targeted technical assistance to states on effective practices in postsecondary transition.

In 2020, OSERS reissued A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities. This guide was designed to help students and youth with disabilities and their families better understand how the state education agencies, the local education agencies and state vocational rehabilitation agencies work together to facilitate improved outcomes for students and youth with disabilities.

Recently, on May 10, 2023, OSERS conducted our kickoff webinar for the “Expect, Engage, and Empower: Successful Transitions for All!” initiative, which featured perspectives from families, practitioners and system change experts involved in secondary transition for students and youth with disabilities. That event and those to come will address the challenges associated with transitions and the strategies and approaches to successfully address them. For additional information about this initiative, visit our website: Expect, Engage, and Empower: Successful Transitions for All! | OSEP Ideas That Work. Visit often for updated information and upcoming event announcements.

Although successful transitions for students with disabilities continues to be a priority for policymakers and practitioners alike, there is still much to do.

We look forward to forthcoming discussions and collaboration as we rethink our approach to supporting students with disabilities as they transition from high school. We specifically look forward to earlier discussions about high expectations and preparation for full access to educational, vocational and social opportunities.

Preparing each student for a flourishing adult life is arguably the most important outcome of K–12 education and the vocational rehabilitation program. Ideally, all students—with and without disabilities—will leave school with the tools and strategies they need to meet their long-term goals and aspirations.

Together, we can make this ambitious and critical goal a reality.


Valerie C. Williams
Office of Special Education Program
Carol L. Dobak
Deputy Commissioner
Delegated the authority to perform the
functions and duties of the Commissioner
Rehabilitation Services Administration

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.


  1. Truth is a lot of us that leave high school are so behind what everyone else has learned. We go home have poor work ethics. Working with my caseworkers. I’ve completed three different vocational training program’s. With job placement supposedly after completion. No job. Then have me sign up for disability. I want to go to college oceanography or marine biology. Then I look at what I can seriously do. I know more can be done. But when the program packet gets hand down from the higher ups. Finally reaches a teacher who’s has his or hers handsful already because their working independently with 6 sometimes 8 students. Who are all working on something different from the other. Make new jobs don’t wait for companies to start taking applications. Companies open their doors where the labor is cheap. Small towns get burned even worse. I know I’m not telling u something u don’t know. I’ve seen some friends from school 20 30 years later some are in residential homes prisons or mental health programs. Thank God my kids are smarter than I was.

  2. Should highlight the work of Think College and comment on how each year funding for Post Secondary College Transition Programs has grown and supported by congress. Stats may show that 80% of those with ID who have had a college experience are able to retain a part time or full time job.

    • You are so correct Sheila!!! The parents should NOT be fighting. The teacher should be the one who is recommending what accomodations a child needs if she is eductated enough to do so. The school system puts muzzles on teachers mouths and they lie about what they can give to our kids! My son was dyslexic and they would not give him reading support! So what does this org have to say about that??? The school system does NOT support our kids!

  3. You have the poor outcome of 23% entering college straight from high school! Most of the students are so mentally beat up after not getting the support they needed in school! Their mind needs a break! So if you want that percentage to drastically increase then support and give the students what they need in the lower grades through high school!

    • I must say as someone who has taught IRR students at elem, middle and high school, there are many things that an be done. First of all, parents, teachers and students must work together. We find that when students are younger parents fight, fight fight…but in that fight, the students become disengaged. They learn to be dependent on the teacher. With accommodations such as read-aloud, calculators, and multiplication facts, they never learn to read or learn basic math. As you read aloud, the kids look around the room and stop making connections with the text by the time they reach high school. They become apathetic.

  4. Some schools are reluctant to have vocational rehabilitation a part of their special education programs. Where do I find state and federal guidelines to submit to these schools to show requirements for collaboration?

    • I contacted my local VR office directly and they have given me all the information I’ve asked for including the option for them to be a part of the IEP team.

    • I second this comment, would like to know the same. Texas possibly? Can’t seem to find any information for this state or Louisiana. Thanks for your time and review. Hopefully this comment follows a reply to Myrna’s above critical inquiry for so many.

  5. This is all great but when you can’t even get a rep from the Regional center to help you’re just pouring good money after bad into a broken system where the only loser is the disabled and their family.

    • I totally agree there must be a way that the schools officials to be held accountable without the school officials making it hard for our families and especially our child/children with disabilities.

  6. Hello! My son is starting his last year of high school. I have asked repeatedly for help with him starting part time employment while in school. His high school is not responding to my requests because he filled out a survey saying he wanted to go to college. He would not be able to attend college full time and will need to ease into college to be successful as he has had a lot of support throughout high school and it will be a big transition for him. I am very surprised that we are not offered more support with helping him obtain part time employment as a senior to build adult soft job skills. We really feel alone in this and our son’s anxiety over adult expectations is increasing. We feel he would be more confident and less anxious with more support for employment before graduating. If you can offer him or us anything to aid in this transition we would be very grateful.

  7. Hi, Valerie!

    Your article is very timely as we deal with this exact issue with my daughter who will be a senior in high school this year. She wants to attend her local college for their Occupational Skills program. We’ve been in discussion regarding this option since last November and finally came up with a good schedule for her to make all entities happy this past May at her IEP meeting. We decided she would do a “hybrid” schedule where she would be attending the High School in the morning from 8:05-11:30; eat lunch, and then travel to the college to attend their program from 12-3. The high school would provide transportation services in the morning for pickup (just like normal), after lunch to the college, and then I would pick her up at the completion of her day at college. We had gotten approval from both entities (high school, college teacher, Dean on students), but last week just found out the college was backing out of allowing her to attend with no explanation. I emailed the college and just got off the phone with the VP this morning and he isn’t budging on his decision. He said the OSP program is not a post-secondary option and he’s sticking with his decision to be consistent with his past decisions. I asked if it would be an option for students in the future and he said not as far as he knew. It’s come up in the past, but has been decided to stay with only high school graduates. I told him I was disappointed with his decision and that my daughter should have the same opportunities as other “traditional” students. The conversation was short, and he hung up. Meanwhile, my daughter is crushed. She was so excited to start, and even more proud of herself to try something different. I’m at a loss as to how to proceed at this point. It will be hard for her to wait until next year after she graduates, but it is what it is at this point.

    I commend pacer for bringing light to this situation so others don’t have to fight like we have. These kiddos deserve the same opportunities whether it’s post-secondary, or any type of college courses.

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