So you’ve decided to go to college. Now what? Where should you go? What do you want to study?
The biggest question that students often ask is:
How do I pay for college?
Primary and secondary education is provided to everyone in America with little or no charge through the public school system, but for the majority of students, college is not free. Most students need help paying for college, not just people who have a disability. Students with learning and physical disabilities have been attending college for many years. These students have been using the same types of funding sources as people without disabilities, including federal student aid. But what about students with intellectual disabilities? This article will address options for all students regardless of their ability, with an emphasis on particular areas of consideration for students with intellectual disabilities.
The first and best option is to start planning early.
Putting money aside for postsecondary education while you are young gives you a head start. You may have started to put money away in a savings account, which is a good practice that allows you flexible access to your money. However, because of low interest rates on savings accounts, you don’t earn much interest this way.
Have you considered a 529 account?
This option allows a parent to put money away for educational purposes, and it grows, tax free, while it is in the account. Many states also give you tax incentives to put money aside in this manner. Some families have been wary of the possibility of this interfering with Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. If you choose this route, you must determine which option brings you the most financial benefit, the 529 investment or SSI. After the money from the 529 investment is used up, the student would then be eligible for SSI.
A new option for saving came about just before the end of 2014 with the passage of the ABLE Act.
This act allows people with disabilities to save money in accounts similar to 529 accounts, but it does not affect eligibility for benefits. The federal government has given the states responsibility for setting up and administering these accounts (just like 529 accounts). Depending on how fast your state works, this may be an available option for you.
Federal student aid is another option you should consider.
There is a form called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Submitting this form determines whether you qualify for federal aid. This aid has been available to students with physical and learning disabilities for years. It wasn’t until 2008 that the federal government allowed for students with intellectual disabilities to use these funds as well.
As of Jan. 26, 2015, there are 231 postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities in the United States. Only 14 percent of them have decided to go through the approval process to receive federal funding. These programs, called comprehensive transition programs, are limited to grants and work-study programs. You will need to ask each school you’re interested in attending if they are eligible for federal student aid. When applying for federal student aid, students under 24 years will have their aid determined by both their income and their parent’s income. Students over 24 only report their personal income.
Each state has an office devoted to job training and assistance for people with disabilities. States often have different names for the department. It may be vocational rehab, rehab service or something similar. You will need to reach out to your local office for information and assistance with financial aid. They may be able to help you find other types of government aid that can be used, even if you are a student who receives SSI or Social Security Disability Income. It may take time to gain school or state approval. Don’t let this discourage you.
Scholarships are the last piece of the puzzle.
Scholarships (see links to possible scholarships below) can come from the college you choose or from an outside source. Seek help from community groups and work places where you know support for people with disabilities is demonstrated. Don’t forget that high school guidance counselors are there to help you. Ask your counselor for a list of available scholarships offered in your community. You will also want to talk with the college you are interested in attending. They may be aware of other organizations that award scholarships.
If at first your search for assistance seems overwhelming, don’t give up. There is help for you in your pursuit of financial aid. The extra work will be worth it when you finally realize your dream of attending college.
- 2015 O’Neill Tabani Enrichment Fund
- Down Syndrome Association of WI Endowment Fund
- Ruby’s Rainbow Scholarship
- Ups For Downs Scholarship
Chris Wright is the director of admissions and financial aid for Shepherds College in Union Grove, WI.