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Think College

As of 2010 Think College has documented the existence of 250 programs nationwide. These programs vary greatly in how students are admitted, in the courses available to them, and whether campus housing is an option. They also vary in terms of how integrated the students are on the college campus.

Students at a table what's available in Wisconsin?

Transition-based programs: School districts around the state are developing transition-based programs in partnership with their local technical college or university to provide access to the college experience including college courses, job opportunities and activities available on campus.

  • Campus Connect, a partnership between Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison College, is an individualized, transition-based program that allows students to access college classes. Employment is the expected outcome, and participation in extra-curricular activites is encouraged. For more information contact the coordinator, Erik Hartz, at
  • Next Step UW provides transition-aged students in the Manitowoc Public Schools with experiences and guidance to further develop career and life skills, with a goal of bridging to community-based work and independent living opportunities.  The training is based at UW-Manitowoc.  Some students are continuing to take classes after exiting from high school. For more information contact Dawn LeLou-Matte, Director of Pupil Services, at 920-686-4720.
  • Learning for Independence--a unique partnership between Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, CESA 7, and surrounding school districts--is a program designed to give transition-aged students access to the college experience. Students are on campus two days a week taking specially-designed courses from college instructors and utilizing college services such as the cafeteria, library, and learning centers. For more information, contact Mary Derginer at
  • Through an interagency collaboration between Headwaters, Inc. (a community rehabilitation center), Nicolet College, Rhinelander School District, and Northland Pines School District, transition-aged students living in Vilas, Forest, or Oneida counties can enroll in Soft Skills Employment Class held at Nicolet College. During this course, students learn conflict resolution, emotional competencies, and how to advance their educational, career and employment goals. For more information, contact Mary Hardtke at or call Headwaters, Inc. at 715-369-1337.
  • The transition program STRIVE--Students Taking Responsibility for Independence and Vocational Education--is a partnership between Homestead High School and the MATC Mequon and Milwaukee campuses in the Milwaukee area. This option is for Homestead students participating in the 18-21 year-old transition program. Students take a course on Career Preparation and Exploration and investigate various career clusters such as culinary, graphic arts, health care, horticulture, T.V. production, and child care. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an article about the program in May 2012.
  • An Individualized Support Model is an option in communities where a specific program has not been started. By working with their transition coordinator and team, many individuals with intellectual disabilities are able to access college classes at the local college or university. Students can audit a class, take a course for credit, or take continuing education classes while receiving support from their school district and/or the college's disability services center.

Adult Learner Options: Individuals who are finished with high school and no longer receive transition services from their school district are often referred to as adult learners. While there are a number of college options for adult learners with intellectual disabilities throughout the United States, there is only one inclusive higher education option in Wisconsin--Edgewood College's the Cutting Edge. For students who choose to have more support for their college experience, there is also a non-traditional, substantially separate option called Shepherd's College.

  • The Cutting-Edge Program at Edgewood College in Madison is one of the only inclusive college programs in our state. Edgewood College is a private college that admits students using alternative admissions and provides students opportunities to live in college housing, participate in campus activities, and access classes with peers without disabilities.
  • Shepherds College in Union Grove is a faith-based program exclusively for individuals with intellectual disabilities that provides life skills and vocational training and supported independent living arrangements. Shepherds College is accredited as a non-degree granting postsecondary school and offers a three-year program. It is not located on a traditional college campus.
  • Similar to the transition-based option, an Individualized Support Model is an option for adult learners in communities where there is no specific program. Collaboration among the student's support team and the college's disability services center facilitates access to college classes at the local college or university. Individuals can audit a class, take it for credit, or enroll in continuing education classes.

Besides the opportunities listed above, pockets of activity and interest are emerging across the state. In some areas, conversations are just beginning, while in others people are actively taking steps to start new initiatives.

If you are involved in college efforts in your community, please contact us! We want to learn about your work. By connecting and learning from each other, our initiatives will be stronger and more sustainable.

To learn about other postsecondary education options available across the country, visit the College Search database on the Think College website at

Last modified Monday, April 22nd, 2013