Transition to College at College of San Mateo - Program Summary
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Transition to College

Program Summary

Mental illness most often strikes individuals during their late teens and early twenties, at which time many are students whose education is then interrupted by the onset of their illness. Returning to college after an extended absence caused by mental illness can be difficult, if not impossible, without the availability of educational support services.

College of San Mateo's Transition to College program has been highly successful in supporting individuals with psychological disabilities to attend college and achieve academic, vocational and/or personal goals. The program's unique approach combines special emphasis instruction, educational accommodations and peer support to assist students to succeed in college. Traditionally, the attrition rate for individuals with psychological disabilities has been exceptionally high as a result of anxiety, low stress tolerance, lack of academic and social skills, and low self-esteem. The Transition to College program, which was established in Spring 1991, has successfully reversed this trend at College of San Mateo; the program boasts a retention rate of 83 percent.

Students Find New Hope

Students in the program are individuals who have severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and manic depression. These students have been identified by community agencies working with the college and referred to the Transition to College counselor or case manager. The majority are unemployed and receiving disability assistance. Most have been ill for more than 10 years and have been hospitalized repeatedly, including lengthy stays at long-term hospitals for up to one year at a time. Seventy-five percent had attempted college unsuccessfully prior to enrolling in the program and had abandoned any hope of achieving educational or career goals.

Thus far the Transition to College program has served more than 1000 individuals over a period of ten years. Approximately 100 students are presently active in the program each semester.

Accommodations Offset Limitations Presented by Psychological Disabilities

As part of a larger, established program for students with disabilities at College of San Mateo, the Transition to College program provides students with psychological disabilities individualized accommodations that offset limitations presented by their disability, which might otherwise affect their ability to succeed in college. These accommodations vary according to the needs of each individual and are arranged for or provided by Transition to College staff or peer counselors.

Accommodations and services
most frequently utilized by students are:

  • Disability-related counseling
  • Peer support groups and peer counseling
  • Special emphasis instruction
  • Study labs
  • Liaison with faculty and other college staff
  • Special college orientation
  • Assistance with registration and financial aid
  • Extended time and/or change of location for exams
  • Special parking arrangements
  • Note taking services and tape recorders
  • Seating arrangement modifications
  • Individualized study skills training
  • Time management training
  • Beverages allowed in class
  • Identified place to meet on campus before or after class that is non-threatening

Special Class Sections, Counseling, and Peer Support Provide a Safe Re-Entry to College

Students in the Transition to College program experience a safe beginning, or re-entry, to college through attendance in courses on college orientation and study skills, disability management, and peer counseling; these are all specially designed with the needs of individuals with psychological disabilities in mind. The students report that the special class sections are most helpful in providing encouragement and support and in developing their self-confidence in the college environment. As a result of the classes, staff have observed student improvement in the following areas:
Higher self-esteem and increased self-confidence in the campus environment; improved study skills and increased knowledge of campus resources; improved interpersonal skills; improved classroom skills (i.e., higher personal, academic and career goals; increased number of long-term goals).

Additionally, students in the program are advised and encouraged by counselors, educational case managers and peer counselors familiar with their disability who maintain liaison with their community therapists and social workers. Weekly support groups and study labs led by peers and staff provide additional support that focuses on mastering the college environment. These support services continue as students mainstream into general college courses.

Fact Sheet- Supported Education

Peer Support Services Certificate Description

Community Involvement
Key to Program's Success

One of the strongest points of the program, and key to its success, is the liaison and inter-referral of the Transition to College staff with San Mateo County Mental Health Services, the Mental Health Association of San Mateo County, Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Peninsula Network of Mental Health Clients, National Outreach for Mental Health, Caminar Supported Housing, County Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and the California Department of Rehabilitation Services. These community agencies and consumer groups were instrumental in the development of the program and continue to actively participate with the college by contributing staff time as co-instructors for the specialized courses, consultants to college personnel, educational case managers and supervisors for peer counselors. They also assist by providing funds for books, art supplies and peer counselors.

Advice for Mental Health Providers

by Tim Stringari M.A., M.F.T.

For further information on the College of San Mateo's Transition to College program, contact (650) 574-6487

Educational Support Services

Fact Sheet on Supported Education

Advice for Mental Health Practitioners

Collaboration with Community Agencies

Peer Support Services Certificate Description

Community Partnerships

Background and Development Research Awards