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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 disabilities. Here we provide a number of options that students with intellectual disabilities are using to pay for college.  Most students are using a combination of the resources listed here.  Additional resources are available in the Resource Library: search under Funding.

Publication: Financing Higher Education for Students with Intellectual Disability

Financial Aid
National Service Education Awards
Tuition waivers
Resource mapping
Individual Training Accounts
Benefits Counseling
Plans for Achieving Self Support
Dual Enrollment
Medicaid funds

Financial Aid: Typically, students must to be fully matriculating and attending college at least half-time to be eligible for financial aid, as well as meet financial need guidelines. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 established rules that allow these students to access federal financial aid such as Pell Grants, Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants and the Federal Work-Study program. Although the financial need guidelines still apply to students with intellectual disabilities, if a student is attending an approved Comprehensive Transition Program, they can apply for financial aid to assist them in paying for the costs of attending that program. The Department of Education maintains a list of programs currently approved as a Comprehensive Transition Program.

Ian Foss, Program Specialist in Policy Liaison & Implementation at the U.S. Department of Education, presented a webinar explaining how students become eligible for financial aid, including how financial need is calculated. He also describes how a program becomes a Comprehensive Transition Program.

Link to recording
PowerPoint handout

Notes from Webinar

Insight Brief on Federal Financial Aid

Scholarships: Many foundations provide scholarships to students enrolling in postsecondary education regardless of their financial status, providing the student meets other requirements. Individual colleges also award annual scholarships based on demonstrated financial need. There are also a growing number of scholarship programs specifically for students with Down syndrome.

National Service Education Awards: Another possible source for financial resources to help pay for college may be a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, given to students who successfully complete service in Americorps.  The award, currently $5550.00 per year, is also matched at 83 colleges and universities. To learn more about these awards, visit the Americorps website.

Tuition waivers: Tuition waivers may be available through the state vocational rehabilitation ( VR) agency or through local community colleges; however, there is no universal implementation of waiver options nationally. A waiver that is provided by the state VR agency would typically apply to any state-run college or university in that state. Usually, a waiver only covers the cost of tuition, and does not include student fees or books. In some cases, however, VR agencies have been known to cover the cost of tuition and fees, and book vouchers. Students are eligible to receive this type of support if they have been deemed eligible for VR services and if the classes in which they want to enroll are related to an identified vocational goal. Relating the course or program of study to a specific vocational goal is key to getting VR approval for fiscal support. Some community colleges also offer tuition waivers to individuals who receive Supplemental Security Income through the Social Security Administration. Often, information about these waivers is listed in the college catalog as a benefit for senior citizens. However, these waivers apply to students of any age receiving SSI. Community colleges offering these waivers require students to complete a form, available from the bursar's office, and have their status verified at a local Social Security office.

Resource mapping/Resource Aligning: Resource mapping is a process where multiple agencies (i.e., VR, DD, One-Stop Career Centers, DOL, DOE) outline what types of services each offers across specific areas (such as postsecondary education and/or employment). This process can help interagency teams to identify overlaps and/or gaps in services. Once the overlaps and gaps have been identified, the interagency team can discuss cost-saving and cost-sharing strategies in order to address the needs of the individuals in their community.

Individual Training Accounts (ITA): ITAs are funds set aside by the One-Stop Career Centers to help individuals pay for training that will lead to obtaining employment. However, eligibility for an ITA is at the discretion of the local One-Stop. Often, an individual must demonstrate a financial need and the likelihood of improved employability as a result of receiving further training.

Benefits Counseling: Benefits Planning Assistance and Outreach is funded under the Ticket-to-Work legislation. There are organizations in every state that assist SSA disability beneficiaries with making choices about work. Services are free and can be identified by going to the Social Security Administration website, then clicking "Service Providers" listed on the site map on the left side of the page:

Plans for Achieving Self-Support (PASS Plans): PASS Plans were developed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as an incentive to encourage individuals who may be receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Supplemental Security Disability Income (SSDI) to enter the workforce. In essence, this plan allows an individual to work and save money and not be penalized by a deduction from their SSI or SSDI check. However, there are restrictions on what the saved money may be used for. To learn more about PASS Plans in general, or to find out what is covered under this type of plan, go to:

Dual Enrollment: Dual enrollment occurs when high school students enroll and participate in college courses, while still being supported by their local school district. The advantage to this type of enrollment is that a student can receive individualized support from their high school (under IDEA) while also having the opportunity to experience college. In this circumstance, the school district may be responsible for transportation and educational coaching. Also, the school system may cover the cost of college tuition, fees, and/or books. School districts that support dual enrollment can develop a cost-sharing plan with the college and the adult service agency that supports the student.

Medicaid funds: In some instances, individuals who are receiving funding from Medicaid for community based supports have used those funds to help pay for the services and supports they need for college.  Tuition payments are typically not an allowable expense, but transportation, educational coaching, and other education-related expenses may be.  To find out more about this source of funding, contact an adult developmental disabilities agency in your area.