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The Inclusive College Experience at ClemsonLIFE

There are currently 310 post-secondary education (PSE) programs located across 49 states. As the number of programs continues to expand it is important to identify a college program that best meets the individual needs of your son or daughter.

For the past 13 years ClemsonLIFE (Learning is for Everyone) has provided an inclusive collegiate experience that prepares young men and women with intellectual disabilities, ages 18-26, for competitive employment and independent living through a combination of academic coursework and career exploration. Approximately 55% of our students have Down syndrome.

ClemsonLIFE currently provides three different certificate programs, including the Basic Certificate Program, Advanced Certificate Program, and Hospitality Certificate Program.

Basic Certificate Program Students in the Basic program live on campus in 4-bedroom apartments that are outfitted with a full kitchen and laundry area for students to practice independent living skills. Each apartment is comprised of three LIFE students and an Independent Living Assistant (ILA) who is a traditional student who supervises the LIFE students during the evening and weekend hours, reinforcing the skills the students learned from their instructors during the week. LIFE students take a mixture of traditional and functional academic courses. The majority of coursework consists of functional academic modules focusing on independent living (e.g., banking, cleaning, transportation, shopping), employment (e.g., soft & hard skills), functional literacy/technology (e.g., emails), and health/wellness (e.g., hygiene, boundaries, relationships). Traditional courses are chosen based on personal interest (e.g., yoga). Advanced Certificate Program ClemsonLIFE also offers an Advanced two-year program for students that have demonstrated the ability to safely live independently, sustain employment, and socially integrate during the Basic Program. These students move into apartments off campus without an independent living assistant but are monitored closely by a transition specialist as they practice independent living skills (e.g., cooking, cleaning, shopping, paying bills). The Advanced program progresses with an increased emphasis on workplace experience, community integration, and independent living with transitionally reduced supports.

Hospitality Certificate Program Hospitality Certificate Program students receive a combination of classroom and employment experiences to prepare them for employment in the Hospitality Industry (e.g., restaurants, hotels). This two-year program provides graduates with a ClemsonLIFE Hospitality Certificate while having the opportunity to receive other training/certifications (e.g., CPR/AED, Hazmat, Customer Service).

Student Engagement

ClemsonLIFE students are active in the Clemson community participating in Greek life, student clubs, swim team, horseback riding, workout classes, sporting events, and more.

Employment Training

During the first year of study, students rotate through a series of month-long unpaid internships across four different employment settings (i.e., retail, food services, distribution center, hospitality industry) to assess individual employment skills and interests. During the second year of the program, students participate in paid employment both on and off campus. All students receive ongoing support and supervision from an employment instructor who provides a combination of classroom instruction and on-site job training.

Social Life

Throughout the PSE program, every student is paired with a traditional student who volunteers as a peer mentor. Mentors meet with students for at least an hour each week throughout the program. Students also attend social events with their mentors throughout the academic school year (e.g., bowling, dinner). Mentors and students work closely together to create achievable social and behavioral goals throughout the course of each semester. In addition to time spent with their mentor, all students participate in a variety of social activities (e.g., club activities, church-affiliated events, lunch buddies, athletic events). Currently over a third (38%) of the PSE students are involved in Greek life fraternities and sororities, as well as other club opportunities on campus.

Physical & Mental Wellness

Exercise and nutrition strategies are embedded within the program to help foster lifelong healthy living. Students participate in five workout sessions each week that includes a combination of both group activities (e.g., Zumba), as well as individual physical workout sessions (e.g., lifting, swimming). Students also participate in 90 minutes of nutrition classes each week that encourages healthy eating. In addition, a mental health counselor provides weekly group and individual training sessions addressing relationship issues, and communication skills to help students become successful decision-makers as well as self-advocates. The counselor provides conflict resolution training to the students and works with the Independent Living Assistants to help mediate conflict that arises between roommates.

Outcomes Matter

A recent survey conducted of LIFE graduates found that 96% of graduates had at least one paid employment position after graduation, while the remaining students had enrolled in additional post-secondary education. Just as important, over half (55%) of all graduates were living independently, which is more than three times the national average (16%) for adults with I/DD.

The application process is provided on our website. The eligibility criteria are that the student must have an intellectual disability. Our niche is that we provide the most support available for a post-secondary program.

The ClemsonLIFE web site is :

Dr. Joe Ryan, ClemsonLIFE, Sue Stanzione Distinguished Professorship


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