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Easing the Transition

Seattle University receives $3 million contract to improve transition outcomes for secondary students with disabilities

Written by Dean Forbes
February 16, 2016

The Washington Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) has awarded Seattle University's College of Education a $3 million, two-year contract to increase support for students with disabilities transitioning to life after high school. The contract, effective Feb. 10, will be managed by the college'sCenter for Change in Transition Services (CCTS). Among other things, CCTS will provide coaching and training, establish pilot projects to determine what works best for transitioning disabled students and will disseminate those best practices to all of the state's school districts. 

Four decades after Congress passed landmark legislation to ensure services to children with disabilities, many are still struggling with what happens to them after they leave public K-12 schools. A December 2015 survey by the Washington Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI), using data collected and analyzed by Seattle University, showed that of about 5,400 youth with disabilities who left high school in 2012-2013, only 24 percent were enrolled in college one year later. Another 28 percent reported that they were employed, however, 35 percent were neither employed nor enrolled in school. More than 1,700 students had dropped out before graduation. 

The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation chose to partner with CCTS as a result of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) signed into law by President Obama last year. 

"CCTS will help DVR and schools build a solid infrastructure to ensure that students with disabilities do not experience gaps in services after they leave secondary school and for better coordination of education and employment plans," says DVR Director Andres Aguirre. 

CCTS is a Washington State Needs Project funded annually with federal resources from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The goal of CCTS is to improve post-school outcomes for students with disabilities in the state. CCTS provides secondary transition training and technical support to Educational Service Districts, Local Educational Agencies and public schools that serve high school-age students who have an Individual Education Program. 

CCTS has specialized expertise in the transition of students with disabilities to employment and post-secondary education with all full-time staff having doctorates in secondary special education and related fields. The center has 25 years of experience working with local school districts training teachers about legal responsibilities of providing transition services and implementation of those services, collecting and reporting post-school employment and education outcomes for students with disabilities. 

Because of this ongoing support and vision, CCTS is known both locally and nationally for its robust data collection, analysis of post-school outcomes and statewide training. CCTS has specialized expertise in the transition of students with disabilities to employment and post-secondary education. 

"This new contract is a significant affirmation and extension of our quality work with OSPI and of the importance of improving outcomes for Washington's most vulnerable students," says Deanna Iceman Sands, dean of the College of Education. 

CCTS principal investigator Cinda Johnson and project director Sue Ann Bube are both parents of children with disabilities and are longtime advocates, educators and researchers in the field. 

The release of more federal money to increase support for state-level disability transition services is important, says Johnson. 

"Schools often focus on graduation and getting students through public school, but failing to prepare students with disabilities for work or more education has a huge impact on society and on the economy down the road," she says. "This has been a life's work for me and it's so exciting that we may be able to make a greater impact through this new partnership." 

Improving outcomes for students with disabilities is a social justice issue, which aligns with SU's mission, adds Bube. 

"Disability services and disability rights go well beyond building a wheelchair ramp and getting an interpreter for somebody who may be deaf. It's really thinking about how that person can be absolutely included in all things." 

Johnson says public schools and OSPI have been leaders in transition services and this contract will help expand resources to work with Washington's Educational Service Districts and school districts.

"The schools can't do it by themselves so to have DVR and SU as partners, with a mission of social justice, it's very exciting to think that this will make a real difference."