Federal Student Aid for Students with Intellectual Disabilities: A Well-Kept Secret?
In 2008 Congress re-authorized the Higher Education Opportunities Act (P.L. 110 -315) with little fanfare. The Higher Education Opportunities Act (HEOA) under Title IV governs all Federal Student Aid. The re-authorization of HEOA included several significant changes to the law of which most of the public remains unaware. Prior to 2008 only students who were enrolled full-time in a college degree bearing program were eligible for Federal Student Aid. Now, there are important exceptions to this rule that even the information specialists at the U.S. government’s information clearing house for financial aid have yet to be trained to able to answer questions about these exceptions.
Related: What is an Intellectual Disability?
There are a large number of students with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) who are academically capable of the rigors of a vocational program or college credit bearing coursework, but deficits in executive functioning, social skills, and/ or independent living skills prevent them from enrolling at college or vocational program full-time. Many of these students will have labels such as Asperger syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Without financial support a number of these students cannot purse postsecondary education and training.
HEOA allows an eligible student with an intellectual disability (ID) attending an eligible comprehensive transition and postsecondary (CTP) program to receive: (1) Federal Pell Grant, (2) Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, and (3) Federal Work-Study programs funds. Currently, no student loans are available to students with ID. To access the aid, a student with an intellectual disability applies through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), just like his or her neurotypical peers.
An eligible student with an intellectual disability (ID) is defined in section 760 of the HEOA (with slight modifications) and includes a student: (A) with mental retardation or significant cognitive impairment AND (B) who is/was eligible for FAPE under IDEA including students who were private and/or home-schooled students. The student must be enrolled in an approved CTP Program and must meet all of the general student eligibility requirements under section 668.32 EXCEPT:
- Does NOT have to be enrolled for the purpose of obtaining a degree or certificate
- Is NOT required to have a high school diploma or have passed an ability-to-benefit test
- Must maintain satisfactory academic progress under school’s policy for students in the CTP
The student must also have documentation demonstrating that he or she has an intellectual disability.
An eligible CTP must be offered by a college that already has an established financial aid program for its general student body. It also must be specifically designed to support students with intellectual disabilities (ID) and include an advising and curriculum structure. The CTP must require students with ID to participate in courses and activities with students without disabilities. These activities can include vocational internships in addition to academic coursework.
For a complete listing of U.S. Department of Education approved Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) programs visit The Office of Postsecondary Education – Approved CTP List: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/eligibility/intellectual-disabilities
For information concerning Federal Student Aid or to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) go to: https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa or call 1-800-4-FED-AID or 1-800-433-3243.
Two other useful websites for helping students with a variety of disabilities transition to postsecondary education are: National Coordinating Center on Transition – thinkcollege.net and The Heath Center: Online Clearinghouse on Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities: http://www.heath.gwu.edu/
The provision of Federal Student Aid to students with intellectual disabilities is an important step toward transitioning them not only to postsecondary education, but to the world of work and independent living. Help transform this well-kept secret to common knowledge by telling parents of students with intellectual disabilities and their advocates of this “new” opportunity.
Ernst VanBergeijk is the Associate Dean and Executive Director, and Paul Cavanagh, is the Director of Academics and Evaluation, at New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program (VIP). The Vocational Independence Program is a U.S. Department of Education approved Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) program. www.nyit.edu/vip
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This post originally appeared on our May/June 2012 Magazine