Paying for College
College expenses often include tuition and fees, a fee for inclusive services, and room and board (if a student choose to live on campus). For students with intellectual disabilities, financial resources are similar to those that other college students may access, but will also include some resources specific to individuals with disabilities.
One of the most common concerns about college is how this will impact someone financially and whether the cost is worth it. This is very much a personal decision, but there are people who can help you navigate this choice. Benefits Counseling is a service that helps individuals with disabilities and their families understand how employment and other life decisions, like going to college, will impact their benefits (i.e. Social Security, health insurance, housing assistance, etc.). Benefits Counseling addresses the fears and concerns many individuals and their families have about a reduction in benefits if they start to work. Learn more about how to access Benefits Counseling here.
In addition to Benefits Counseling, as you get closer to enrolling in college, we recommend you meet with the inclusive service office and/or the office of financial aid on the campus of your choice to talk about financial resources; they might be able to help navigate some of the different items outlined below. For now, continue on to learn about the actual resources available!
Any students enrolled via GOAL at UNC, Office of Inclusive Services at UCCS, and Elevate at ACC are eligible to apply for Federal Financial Aid!
This is possible through the Comprehensive Transition Program certification, a prestigious status granted by the U.S. Department of Education to college programs serving students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Once schools receive this designation, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities enrolled at that institution may apply for Federal Financial Aid, including grants, scholarships, and work study.
Wondering if financial aid impacts Social Security Income? Check out this FAQ page by Think College for more information.
While exploring scholarship options to fund your higher education experience, keep in mind that there are many sources to consider while searching. For example, there may be scholarship options such as:
- Scholarships awarded to seniors in your school district
- Scholarships available based on region (via organizations or Mill levy funds
- Scholarships specific to the college you will be attending
- Disability specific scholarships
Some scholarships may say they are only for students pursuing a Bachelor's degree. Don't be afraid to ask whether an exception can be made for a student with an intellectual disability pursuing a certificate.
For more information about specific scholarship opportunities available through a particular college, we encourage you to reach out to the inclusive service office on that campus. They can assist you in navigating scholarships that other students may have been able to access.
Finally, national scholarships such as Ruby's Rainbow, which grants scholarships to adults with Down syndrome seeking post-secondary education, may also be options worth exploring when considering college funding.
Many college students contribute towards their own college expenses. This can be the same for students with intellectual disabilities, thus should not be overlooked as another option for paying for college. Student contribution could be from income from on- and off-campus jobs during the school year, summer employment, or even income received from Social Security. This will look different for each student, but something to keep in mind as you are thinking about college.
Resources Specific to Individuals with Disabilities
Colorado ABLE - ABLE accounts are savings accounts designed for people with disabilities and their families. They enable individuals to save while maintaining their Social Security Income (SSI). Students in college may use an ABLE account to have greater financial independence, or families may use an account to save for college or any other disability related expense. For more information, please visit the Colorado ABLE website.
Community Centered Boards (CCB) - Through CCBs, individuals with IDD may be able to access Medicaid Waivers, which are a set of Health First Colorado benefits that you might be able to use in certain cases. These benefits can not only support individuals with IDD in their home and community, they can also provide support while attending college! Additionally, some CCBs have self-determination funds where individuals can apply for financial assistance to meet their goals, like going to college. Find your Community Centered Board here.
Department of Vocational Rehabilitation - Students with intellectual disabilities may be able to access support from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to help offset some of the cost of a college education while working to achieve their employment goals. DVR's services are very individualized, so families are encouraged to discuss support options with their counselor. To learn more about DVR and find your local office, please visit DVR's website for more information.
Think College - Think College is a national organization dedicated to developing, expanding, and improving inclusive higher education options for people with IDD. Visit their resource page to find out about other options for paying for college.