Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

Next Steps at Vanderbilt University

Next Steps at Vanderbilt University is a 2-year nonresidential certification program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, providing individualized Programs of Study in the areas of education, social skills, and vocational training.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Next Steps at Vanderbilt?
Next Steps at Vanderbilt is a 2-year nonresidential certificate program for students with intellectual disabilities, providing individualized Programs of Study in the areas of education, social skills, and vocational training. The goal of the program is to broaden the career options and opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities in inclusive, age-appropriate settings.

What is the application process?
Once complete application packets have been received and reviewed, selected candidates are contacted for an interview. Candidates are then asked to participate in a half-day visit on campus. This half-day is designed to afford the potential students and Next Steps staff more time to decide if Next Steps at Vanderbilt will be a good match for all.

What are the factors in selection of a Next Steps at Vanderbilt student?
A Next Steps at Vanderbilt student is between the ages of 18 and 26, has not received a standard diploma, and has an intellectual or developmental disability. Eligible students must have a strong desire to participate in the college experience, to secure paid employment, and to achieve greater independence.

If my son or daughter’s graduation date is uncertain, should he or she apply anyway?
Your son or daughter may apply, and the application fee may be paid. However, if he or she applies and does not graduate, the application will not be kept in active status. He or she will need to reapply after actual graduation and application fees will need to be paid again. If you are unsure whether your son or daughter will graduate, it might be best to wait until circumstances are more certain. Because Next Steps at Vanderbilt accepts students up to age 26, there should be plenty of time for consideration.

How many students are accepted into the program?
Six to eight students will be accepted each year.

How much does Next Steps at Vanderbilt cost?
The program is currently $15,000 per year. The program lasts two years.

Is financial assistance available?
Next Steps at Vanderbilt is a federally approved Comprehensive Transition Program. This status enables eligible students to apply for Federal Financial Aid. The Federal Student Aid website has added a page explaining financial aid for students with ID; following this link provides further assistance.

The Vanderbilt Office of Financial Aid is also a resource. Contact the people below for assistance.

For families with last names starting with the letters A through L:
Melinda Nixon, Student Financial Aid Officer

For families with last names starting with the letters M through Z
Lea Voigt, Student Financial Aid Officer

The phone numbers to reach either of them are 1-800-288-0204 (toll free) or 615-322-3591 (local).

Is Next Steps at Vanderbilt a certificate program?
Yes.  Students who complete program requirements will receive a Next Steps at Vanderbilt certificate of completion. Students who participate in and complete courses at the Tennessee Technology Center will receive a supplemental certificate that lists the mastery of skills. This certificate lists industry standards and is recognized.

Is there a residential component?
Next Steps at Vanderbilt does not have a residential option.  

How does a Next Steps at Vanderbilt student participate in a Vanderbilt class?
Each student has an Independent Learning Agreement that modifies course requirements to meet the student’s individual abilities.  The Independent Learning Agreement is developed by Next Steps at Vanderbilt staff.
Taking part in classes provides an opportunity for the student to explore his or her interests and to move toward employment goals.  Participation also provides an opportunity for the student to learn valuable independent living skills. For example, students are expected to get to class on time and are expected to complete assignments within their Independent Learning Agreement.

Do the Next Steps at Vanderbilt students follow a 9 – 5 Monday through Friday schedule?
No. This is a true college experience. A schedule on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday can look very different from a schedule on Tuesday and Thursday. Depending on the student’s internship, class schedule, and social events calendar, each day may look completely different.

How much assistance will my child get?
Remember that part of the Next Steps at Vanderbilt program agenda is to encourage independence. While the students are paired with Ambassadores and are with at least one during much of the day, there are times when the students will have time alone.  Ambassadores are encouraged to fade their assistance as early as they can, and then continue to enjoy time spent together in a purely social context.

What is an Ambassadore?
A diverse group of individuals from the Vanderbilt University student body are selected to serve as peer mentors. The students receive training and on-going support from Next Steps at Vanderbilt staff. VU students have the opportunity to be academic tutors, daily planning buddies, work-out buddies, lunch buddies or job trainers for the program students.

Are tutors available to students?
Yes. Each Next Steps at Vanderbilt student has an Ambassadore who will serve as an academic tutor.

Are Ambassadores fingerprinted?
Each Ambassadore is fingerprinted and must pass background and reference checks.

What are some of the extracurricular activities available?
In their first semester, Next Steps at Vanderbilt students are required to join the Vanderbilt chapter of Best Buddies. Beyond that, activities available to Vanderbilt students are offered to Next Steps at Vanderbilt students.

What is Best Buddies?
Best Buddies is an international organization with a chapter on the Vanderbilt campus. Best Buddies members are students who are devoted to enhancing the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities through providing opportunities for one-on-one friendships.

Are internships available?
Yes. Internships are a required component of the Next Steps at Vanderbilt program. The internships allow for valuable work experience. Internships are chosen based upon student interests.

How can families get involved in supporting their son or daughter's educational goals?
Next Steps at Vanderbilt holds monthly parent and family meetings. Parents and family members can play an important role in reinforcing at home what is being learned in the Next Steps at Vanderbilt program. For example, students are taught about grocery shopping and learn to cook healthy meals for their peers. Parents can reinforce these skills by letting their son or daughter be responsible for grocery shopping and cooking dinner.

How do I apply for admission?
Download the application files here.
Once complete application packets have been received and reviewed, selected candidates will be contacted to schedule an interview. Updated application materials will be posted before the beginning of each year.

What is the history of Next Steps?
In 2004, a small group of parents of teens with intellectual disabilities and professionals in the field of disabilities began meeting to explore the possibility of developing postsecondary education programming for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD) in Tennessee. In 2006, the small group expanded its reach and membership to found the Tennessee Postsecondary Education Task Force (presently known as the Tennessee Alliance for Postsecondary Education Opportunities for Students With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities). Members included parents; Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities; Department of Human Services; Tennessee Department of Education; Tennessee Higher Education Commission; Metro-Davidson, Rutherford, and Williamson County schools; various higher education institutions; and disability service agencies. The first tasks included identifying priorities and purpose, examining and visiting existing programs, and the developing and implementing of a statewide survey on parental perspectives in regards to postsecondary education programming. This discovery process led the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities to offer a grant that would allow for the establishment of a pilot program in Tennessee. The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center was awarded this grant and in the spring of 2009 began developing Tennessee’s first postsecondary education program on the Vanderbilt University campus. Faculty, staff, and graduate students at Vanderbilt spent 2009 developing a program and networking across the University’s campus. In January of 2010, Next Steps at Vanderbilt welcomed its first class of students.

See Also...

Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Links