According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “the average total cost of attendance in 2011-12 for first-time, full-time students living on campus and paying in-state tuition was $21,000 at public 4-year institutions, $41,420 at private nonprofit 4-year institutions, and $30,840 at private for-profit 4-year institutions,” (NCES, 2013). College tuition and associated costs are rising faster than the rate of inflation. How can families afford to send their children to college? Are there any differences between sending a neurotypical child to college and sending a child on the autism spectrum or a child with some other neurological disability to post-secondary education? The short answers are: With planning and forethought families can send their children to college and yes, there are major differences including different funding streams and grants for children with disabilities who want to pursue post-secondary education.
When a child is first born, college seems like a distant goal – far off and beyond the horizon. However, given the substantial cost of college, parents must begin a rigorous savings plan in order to be able to pay the hefty price tag these days. Depending upon where a family resides, some states offer college savings plans that are tax free. Certain restrictions apply so find out the details of these plans (e.g. they may only be used for in state colleges or in-state public colleges). Families should also check with a financial advisor who is not only familiar with the local tax implications, but also the implications for future financial aid.
Some families with children that are blessed with athletic gifts hope to pay for college through an athletic scholarship. These are extremely rare. In fact, only about 2% of students going to college are on athletic scholarships. Academic merit scholarships and need based scholarships are far more common. A search through the internet can assist families to find foundations that provide scholarships for student who are interested in pursuing a certain profession. Other foundations made offer grants for children who are the sons and daughters of immigrants from a certain ethic group and are interested in supporting students who will study the language, literature, and culture of the group. Start early in searching for this kind of scholarship. Start searching for these foundations a year or two before the student will enroll as a freshperson. There may be cut off dates. These grants are often very competitive.
The main source of financing of college comes from the federal government in the form of Federal Student Aid. For students enrolling in a degree bearing program full time, the process begins with the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid otherwise known as the FAFSA. Federal Student Aid comes in two forms: grants and loans. Grants are sums of money given to the student which are not expected to be re-paid as long as the student makes Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). (Check with the institution in which the student is enrolling for its definition of SAP). When the federal legislation was initially introduced the majority of student aid was in the form of grants. Specifically, a student is eligible for Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), and federal student work study monies. Now, the bulk of federal student aid comes in the form of loans. Loans come in the form of subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Readers are probably familiar with the names of some of the loan programs such as Stafford and Perkins loans. These are low interest loans that must be re-paid once the student either stops attending college or graduates. The amount of grants and loans are determined by the completion of the FAFSA and the calculation of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
For the children of military personnel there may be another option in helping pay for college:
Congress passed the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-252), known as the “New G.I. Bill” on June 30, 2008. It provides the most comprehensive educational benefits package to service men and women since the original passage of the G.I. Bill in 1944. The Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-252), allows for the transfer of unused educational benefits from the veteran or active duty service member to his or her dependents (spouse or children). The educational benefits can be applied to traditional college degree programs as well as on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and non-college degree programs. The Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-377), more commonly referred to as the “New G.I. Bill 2.0,” expanded the definition of eligible service personnel to include full time active guard and reserve members. Now, the military service member can be from any branch of the military (Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy) as well as the National Guard and Coast Guard (VanBergeijk, Cavanagh, Borchers, 2012).
For a child of a service person to receive the transfer of benefits, the military person has to have served in the armed forces for at least 10 years. The college or vocational program needs to be an approved program by the Veterans Administration. The benefits are as follows: (1 )four academic years (36 months) of tuition paid at a rate up to the equivalent cost of the most expensive public undergraduate college in the military person’s home state; (2) a monthly living stipend (which varies depending upon the location of the college); (3) an extension of the Montgomery G.I. Bill in terms of eligibility – instead of the benefit only covering veterans who left the military within 10 years, the benefit has been extended to 15 years after the veteran has left the service; (4) approved overseas programs are now eligible for the first time; (5) an annual stipend of up to $1,200 for educational expenses (e.g. books); and (6) a one-time licensing fee or certification test fee (up to $2,000) that is not counted against the 36 months of tuition benefit. Private colleges tend to be more expensive than public colleges. The New G.I. and the New G.I. Bill 2.0 created a program to help offset the difference in the cost of private versus public colleges. The “Yellow Ribbon Program” is a federal program where the government will match up to 1/2 the cost differential between the most expensive public college in the veteran’s home state and the cost of the private college. The private college must agree to match an equal amount that the federal government is providing. Therefore, up to 100% of the cost differential could be covered by this program. Students using The Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act benefit are still eligible for financial aid. Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to determine the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The students, depending upon their family’s income, may be eligible for Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), Work Study monies, and both federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
What About Students with Autism and Students with Intellectual Disabilities?
If a student on the autism spectrum is able to apply to college and matriculate full time in a degree bearing program, then he or she is entitled to apply for Federal Student Aid through the FAFSA just like any other college student. If that same student is the son or daughter is the dependent of an active duty serviceperson or veteran, then he or she may also be eligible for the transfer of G.I. Benefits discussed previously. However, many students on the autism spectrum are unable to be accepted directly into a college. Some have not yet finished high school. Others are unable to matriculate full time in a degree bearing program full time. Another group of students on the autism spectrum has a co-morbid intellectual disability and may never be able to pursue a degree bearing program as a full time student. Are the doors of higher education and job training then closed to these students? The answer is no.
When in 2008 Congress passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act (P.L. 110 -315), it re-authorized Title IV which is the Title that governs Federal Student Aid. It also made some very distinct changes in the legislation to encourage students with intellectual disabilities to continue to pursue their education post-high school. It created the concept of Comprehensive Transition and Post-secondary (CTP) programs. Institutions of Higher Education with an already approved Title IV program are eligible to submit applications to the U.S. Department of Education for approval of their CTP. The colleges must demonstrate that the CTP has a curriculum and advising structure that is specific to students with intellectual disabilities (ID) including some students with autism. Further, the college must demonstrate to the DOE those students with ID are in educational and vocational training activities with the neurotypical population at least 51% of the time over the course of their program.
As a result of the change in legislation students with ID, including some who are on the autism spectrum, are now able to apply for Federal Student Aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) just like any other college student even though they may not have graduated from high school and even if they are not enrolled in a degree bearing program. However, students with ID who apply to a U.S. DOE approved CTP are only eligible for certain forms of Federal Student Aid. Students are only eligible for grants – the Pell Grants, the Federal Supplemental Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), and Student Work Study monies. The grants are not expected to be re-paid as long as the student maintains Satisfactory Academic Progress. Depending on the cost of the CTP, these grants may not be sufficient to cover tuition, room, and board. Students with ID under this legislation ARE NOT eligible for federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Parents must turn to private lenders for “Continuing Education Loans” which are not readily available through all private lending institutions. Please note: the language is very specific for this type of loan-do not confuse this with the traditional student loans which require the student to be enrolled in a degree bearing program full time. Also note: the interest rates on the Continuing Education Loans are higher than the federal student loans.
Not only are students with Intellectual Disabilities not eligible for Federal Student Loan programs, but their enrollment in a U.S. DOE approved CTP is not covered by either the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-252), or the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-377). Hopefully, with advocacy efforts, students with ID including some students on the autism spectrum will have access to loans and the transfer of veterans’ benefits upon future re-authorizations of these pieces of legislation. Future re-authorizations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) will also need to address the fact that a student covered under IDEA funding is not eligible for Federal Student Aid. In the future all of these pieces of legislation will need to be coordinated with the Higher Education Opportunity Act for the maximum benefit of students with disabilities.
Parents should not despair at these impediments. Creative families have contacted their state offices of Vocational Rehabilitative Services and Persons with Developmental Disabilities Services in order to obtain assistance with funding for their children’s attendance at a Comprehensive Transition and Post-secondary (CTP) program. Given how relatively new the CTP concept is, parents and advocates will need to educate service providers on the merits of model in order to obtain additional funding. Finally, parents should look for grants specific to autism and other disabilities as a source of funding. Some will come from foundations or not for profit organizations. Others may come from state governments. For example, the State of Ohio has a scholarship program specifically for students on the autism spectrum who want to attend college in Ohio. Check with your home state’s department of education to see if they have a similar program.
For more information about Federal Student Aid visit: https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa.
For an up to date list on the U.S Department of Education approved Comprehensive Transition and Post-secondary programs visit: https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/eligibility/requirements/intellectual-disabilities.
To learn more about the New G.I. Bill Benefits and the application process visit the U.S. Department of Defense web site which features a page on the new benefits: https://www.va.gov/education/how-to-apply/ or visit the U.S. Department Veterans Affairs web site dedicated to the topic at: https://www.va.gov/education/about-gi-bill-benefits/
Ernst VanBergeijk is the Associate Dean and Executive Director, 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. Please visit www.nyit.edu/vip for more information. The authors also administer Introduction to Independence (I to I) a seven-week summer college preview program for students ages 16 and up.
New York Institute of Technology proudly participates in the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act and the Yellow Ribbon benefit programs supporting our servicemen and women and their families.
National Center for Education Statistics (2013, May). The Condition of education: Price of attending and undergraduate institution. Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cua
VanBergeijk, E.O., Cavanagh, P.K., and Borchers, N. (2012, August). The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill: A way to pay for your dependents’ college. Exceptional Parent, pp. 50-52.