Pacer LIFE welcomes its first 16 students for the fall semester

The University of South Carolina Aiken's newest program, Pacer LIFE (Learning Is For Everyone), will welcome its inaugural cohort for the 2023-2024 school year on Aug. 17.

The two-year program serves as a comprehensive post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities. The program is the first in the Central Savannah River Region (CSRA) and one of six in South Carolina.

"The program uses a person-centered planning approach," said Nicole Pioli, coordinator of Pacer LIFE. "We work collaboratively with each student to develop individualized goals in the areas of academics, employment, independent living, and social engagement."

Pacer LIFE Director, Dr. Melissa Martin, says the journey to bring the program to campus started in 2019.

"This program is needed because nationally only about 18% of individuals with intellectual disabilities have a job once they exit high school," she explained. "Local districts have been so helpful in spreading the word about Pacer LIFE. We have often found that these students and families never thought college was an option. Now, it's an option close to home."

Just recently, the South Carolina State Approving Agency and Veterans Affairs approved the USC Aiken Pacer LIFE Program for VA funding, allowing students who have a parent with certain VA benefits, to qualify for a monthly stipend. The benefit will not waive or reduce any cost incurred by USC Aiken.

Jared Woods is a Pacer LIFE participant and the first to benefit from the funding. His father, Herbert Woods, said, "I hope he has a good time. He's a character. We tried to find a program for him to go to college, so this worked out."

This semester's cohort consists of 16 students, many of whom are from Aiken. The students will move into university housing beginning at 1 p.m. on Aug. 17.

Online applications are now open for the next academic year.

For more information, contact Angela Saxon,