Paying for College

One of the greatest challenges for college attendance is how to pay for it, and this can be particularly true for students with intellectual disability. But there are several avenues to explore for funding the cost of a college program. Students may be able to use vocational rehabilitation funds, scholarships, or federal financial aid. They may also take advantage of PASS plans related to Social Security benefits, among other things.

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Frequently Asked Questions

My son/daughter gets funding for disability supports from multiple sources. Which of these funding streams can be used to help support them in college?

Many students are using funding from vocational rehabilitation (VR) and/or Medicaid to help pay for college. If your son or daughter has these services, it is very worthwhile to discuss how those services and supports can help pay for college attendance. In some states, VR is very supportive of these initiatives, while other states are still determining if they will support college for students with intellectual disability. The same is true of Medicaid funding for developmental disability services. One thing that is true everywhere is that Medicaid cannot be used to pay for tuition, but it can be used for other college expenses. The details of that must be discussed with your developmental disabilities agency.

What are the general costs associated with attending a postsecondary program? For example, the cost of tuition, books, room & board, and general fees?

Costs of attendance at college programs for students with intellectual disability vary considerably, just as they do for other college students. Costs for dual enrollment programs, where students are still in high school while attending college, are typically covered by the school district. In programs for adults who have left high school, it is typical to see costs that are the same as for other students as far as tuition and fees, books, and room and board. There may also be an additional cost for support services that are above and beyond those required to provide equal access.

Are there any grants or scholarships available for students with intellectual disability?

There are relatively few scholarship programs specifically for students with intellectual disability. We provide links to two such programs in our Related Website resources above. College programs may have their own scholarship programs, so ask about those when you are contacting them for information. Also, seek out scholarships that are offered to college-bound students through your town or school, such as Rotary Club. They may have never considered offering a scholarship to students with intellectual disability, but you never know until you ask! One more way that some students are paying for college is through AmeriCorps community service programs. These programs offer students an education award for their service, which can be used to pay for college. Learn more about AmeriCorps and National Service.

Do banks or the federal government allow for loans to students in non-degree programs?

At this time, students with intellectual disability who are attending non-degree college programs are not eligible for federal student loans, either through the government or private lenders.

Can my daughter/son with an intellectual disability apply for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)?

There is a category of programs called Comprehensive Transition Programs, or CTPs. These programs are marked with a CTP logo in our College Search. Students with intellectual disability who attend one of these programs can apply for aid through the FAFSA, and may be determined eligible for Pell Grants, Supplemental Education Grants, or work-study. Income eligibility guidelines will still apply. View a complete list of Comprehensive Transition Programs.

Does FASFA count parent income for a youth over 18 who is a dependent or has a legal guardian?

Typically, yes. This is also true for most college students. If a student is claimed as a dependent on the family’s tax return, then it is likely that parent income will be counted. In this area, the rules for considering parent income do not differ from the rules that apply to all college students applying for aid.

What is the average federal financial aid package?

Because students with intellectual disability are only eligible for grant programs, and not loans, the typical financial aid package is likely to be no more than $5000 or so, which is the current limit for a Pell Grant award. Again, the amount a student is eligible for is determined by financial need, and parent income is typically counted. If a particular program has additional scholarship funds they can award, that amount may rise by $1000 or so.

Is there a financial aid office at the college that can help map out ways to fund college?

The first place to discuss ways to pay for college would be with the staff of the programs you are interested in. Ask them what strategies other students are using to pay for the program: are there scholarships, does VR support any students, are there ways to use Medicaid-funded services to cover some of the costs, how much are families typically paying, and so on. Once you have determined the college your son or daughter will be attending, then that financial aid office may also have some information, so you should be sure to discuss your needs with them.

How do the new ABLE Act accounts available in many states help to pay for college?

Now that many states have passed ABLE Act legislation, families and students are allowed to save for college and other expenses without impacting their benefits. This is a wonderful new way for families to set aside money for college for their sons or daughters with disabilities, just as they might do for their other children.

Other questions?