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USC College of Education Special Education faculty win $1.158 million U.S. Department of Education grant to “Focus on Transition”

Program to equip 12 Ph.D. scholars with newly-developed SC graduate endorsement in transition practices

USC College of Education Special Education faculty Dr. Kathleen Marshall and Dr. Tony Plotner were recently awarded $1.158 million from the U.S. Department of Education for “Focus on Transition,” a program to prepare 12 Ph.D. scholars in special education leadership including the newly-developed SC graduate endorsement in transition practices.

With the five-year project, the College of Education will be the first institution in South Carolina to offer the transition practices credential, which is now in the final steps of legislative approval.

Transition services support the transition of children and youth with diverse needs to adulthood. Services focus on an individual’s needs and consider their strengths, preferences and interests, and can include development of employment skills, acquiring daily living skills, community experiences and partnering with community-based services.

"This program fills a critical need in the field of special education and disability service leadership within the state of South Carolina, and should positively impact post-school outcomes among students with disabilities whose needs have been inadequately addressed in the past," Plotner states.

The Ph.D. candidates selected for the grant-funded program will learn through a model of preparation focusing on transition research and its implementation, special education administration, and multidisciplinary collaboration. The candidates will graduate with a Ph.D. in Special Education and Leadership with an endorsement in Transition Practices.

Program candidates will be prepared to address the outcomes of students with disabilities, including diverse, high-needs students and those in low-performing schools. Additionally, they will be prepared to develop, administer, inform and evaluate programs and policies at the district, state and national level.

“It is imperative that special education administrators are prepared to provide leadership in the state as we move towards more effective transition practices,” Marshall notes.

The program is accepting applications for this doctoral program immediately through the USC Graduate School. Candidates from traditionally underrepresented groups, who have an established interest in secondary special education, transition services and adult outcomes for youth with disabilities, are encouraged to apply. 

Marshall is an expert in effective reading instruction for students with disabilities, preparing teachers to deliver evidence-based practices, and working in multi-tiered academic service delivery systems."

Plotner’s expertise lies in community inclusion of individuals with diverse needs — specifically the transition to college, supported employment, and collaboration across systems. He is also program director of CarolinaLIFE, a two-to four-year, postsecondary program for students with intellectual or cognitive disabilities.

The Special Education program, offered through the Department of Educational Studies within the College of Education, also offers a Ph.D. with an emphasis in university teaching and research, a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), a Master of Education (M.Ed.), add-on certification, Endorsement in Gifted and Talented Education, and Board Certified Behavior Analyst coursework. 

For more information about the Ph.D. in Special Education Leadership with endorsement in Transitional Practices, contact Marshall at For more information about the grant award, contact the College of Education at

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