Academic Programs, Funding and Support Services to Achieve Success
More than 760,000 individuals in America currently live with cerebral palsy (CP), with approximately 1,200 to 1,500 school-aged children being diagnosed with the disability each year. Until recently, few colleges in the country offered inclusive programs tailored to the individual needs of this population, but all that has started to change as more and more schools roll out specialized offerings. The following guide offers guidance on some of the programs that are changing the face of education for students with cerebral palsy, it and also includes helpful details about financial aid resources and support mechanisms.
College Programs for Students with Cerebral Palsy
Finding a school that is inclusive and caters to the individual needs of students with cerebral palsy is key to having an enjoyable and useful college experience. While there is certainly no rule that disallows this student population from attending college, some schools are doing more to ensure students with cerebral palsy have quality programs from which to choose. Two of the best options in the nation are highlighted below.
Project FOCUS, University of Arizona
The University of Arizona’s Project FOCUS (Focusing Opportunities with Community and University Supports) operates as a transitional program for students aged 18 to 22 who have intellectual disabilities. In addition to 25 academic credits, seven of which relate to an internship, students also complete a certificate in service learning and gain valuable volunteer experience and job skills designed to propel them into meaningful work upon graduation. Ensuring students are engaged in campus life is a significant component of the program, as is the instilling of technology skills in both academic and campus life activities.
Cutting Edge, Edgewood College
Wisconsin’s Edgewood College was the first institution in the state to offer inclusive programs for students with significant disabilities and continues to lead the charge in innovation and support. Upon acceptance to the program, students can choose from three paths: non-degree, certificate or degree seeking. Regardless of the path chosen, all students spend the first year focused on developing self-advocacy skills and building independence. Students typically take eight to 12 credits per semester for credit or audit. Students also have many opportunities to engage with other students on campus and take part in clubs, organizations and events.
Individualized Education Plans & IEP Transition Planning for College
Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, are legal documents that are created by schools and signed off on by parents. They help high school students plan their futures and take steps to reach their goals. These documents are required under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and must be started by the time students are 16 years old. Often, IEPs can be carried over and adjusted from high school to college to help learners maintain their focus and continue receiving support.
Preparing for College: IEP Transition Planning
IEPs are beneficial to many types of students, including those with cerebral palsy. Because these students often encounter unique learning limitations and require individualized support mechanisms to meet their goals, IEPs help administrators, faculty and other campus staff understand how to best support these learners while also providing concrete measurements for success.
Accommodations & Modifications in College
Cerebral palsy is a disability that has many common ways of affecting individuals, yet how each person experiences it is different. According to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, one in three people affected by CP is unable to walk, one in 10 experiences severe vision impairment, one in four has epilepsy and one in two has an intellectual impairment. Because cerebral palsy affects each person differently, finding ways of providing assistance and support in college must be on an individual basis.
One of the most common forms of assistance for college students with cerebral palsy is the use of accommodations. Some of the typical forms of accommodations are highlighted below, along with examples of each.
Scholarships & Financial Aid for Students with Cerebral Palsy
When considering college, one of the first thoughts that often pops into the minds of students and their families is how to pay for it. As costs of higher education continue to rise, the U.S. Department of Education and countless other private foundations, businesses and organizations provide funding avenues to help with the financial burden.
FEDERAL FINANCIAL AID
The Department of Education provides a range of financial aid opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities, including federal Pell Grants, federal supplemental educational opportunity grants and federal work-study programs. To qualify for these funds, students must meet a number of requirements, including the following:
- Being enrolled or accepted into a comprehensive transition and postsecondary (CTP) program that caters to intellectual disabilities. These schools must participate in federal student aid programs for learners to be eligible.
- Meeting and maintaining satisfactory academic progress as outlined by the Department of Education.
- Meeting and maintaining federal student aid eligibility requirements. Under the IDEA law, individuals with intellectual disabilities are not required to have a high school diploma or GED to qualify, and they don’t have to be pursuing a degree or certificate program.
SCHOLARSHIPS AND GRANTS
Offsetting the cost of postsecondary education is the goal of almost every student. In addition to general financial aid, a number of scholarships and grants exist to help this student population find ways to pay for higher education.
- Ameriglide: Achiever Scholarship
This scholarship is awarded to individuals attending a two- or four-year college in America who have completed at least one year of postsecondary education. Students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and use a manual or electric wheelchair, or a mobility scooter. Applications are due by May 31.
- The Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation: Scholarships for Students with Disabilities
Up to $1,500
These annual scholarships are awarded to students with cerebral palsy and may be applied either to the tuition and fees of their college or to cover costs associated with disability-related expenses. During the 2016-2017 academic year, the foundation awarded $357,500 in grants.
- Ethel Louise Armstrong Foundation: Scholarship for Women
Up to $2,000
These funds are made available to female college students with physical limitations who are attending an accredited American college or university. Students must be working toward a master’s degree or PhD when they apply and must be active in a disability organization that provides services and/or advocacy for people with disabilities.
- Michigan Cerebral Palsy Attorneys: Achievements and Abilities Scholarship
This award is made to high school, undergraduate or graduate students with cerebral palsy with special preference given to Michigan-based applicants. Students must have a GPA of at least 3.0 and either have cerebral palsy or a member of their family who has the disability. Applications must be sent by July 31.
- UCP of Central Minnesota: Grants for Adaptive Equipment
These grants are made available to traditional and adult students with cerebral palsy who need financial assistance in purchasing adaptive equipment to help them live fuller lives. Applicants must live in Stearns, Benton, or Sherburne counties in Minnesota to apply.
Advice from an Expert
Kim Kolk joined the University of Notre Dame’s Office of Housing as the Assistant Director for Summer Housing in February 2017. Kim is originally from Fort Wayne, IN, and moved to South Bend by way of Nashville, TN. Kim received her Bachelor of Science in Public Relations and Advertising from Florida Southern College, and her Master of Higher Education and Student Affairs from Florida State University. Previously, she worked at Belmont University in Nashville for four years where she served as a Residence Director, Summer Conferences Manager, and Assistant Director of Residence Life.
Why is it important that students with cerebral palsy find support in college?
The transition to college for any student is difficult, and requires support from parents or guardians, professors, and student support staff. Students with CP face unique, complex challenges on top of those experienced by any new college student. As such, it becomes imperative to student success that individuals with CP looking at pursuing higher education find resources of support, both on campus and at home.
How can students with cerebral palsy overcome challenges in college?
I think the two most effective ways to overcome challenges in college are to utilize resources and support given by the institution, and to develop a social circle or a community. Professors, disability support staff, residence hall staff, academic advisors, financial aid – all of these people can be great partners and advocates for you to overcome challenges that may be a part of the college experience. Additionally, finding a community on campus is critical to overcoming challenges any student, regardless of whether or not the student has CP. Engagement in clubs and activities, building positive peer relationships, and exploring the college and local community are all great ways to build resilience among college students, which helps students who face obstacles in their college journey bounce back more quickly and fully.
What advice do you have for students with cerebral palsy and their families when considering college options?
I believe it is really important to consider the various needs of the student when considering and comparing colleges and universities. Most people consider academics to be the top priority when looking at the offerings of a particular institution: Does this school offer the program/major/minor I want to pursue? Is this school known for prestigious academic performance? However, it is important to balance practical, day-to-day needs with academic needs when selecting the school that will be the best fit for each student: accessibility of residence halls (should you choose or desire to live on-campus), routes and navigation around campus, and support services offered are all just as important to collegiate success as academic rigor and performance.
Additionally, make good use of any support or disability services offered by the institution – these staff exist on college campuses for the sole purpose of aiding students towards achieving academic success. Don’t be afraid to utilize their services and to lean on them as advocates when you run into obstacles on your journey, and make sure you do your research on what options each university has available as you’re discerning between schools. Finally, do not accept “no” for an answer – any student has the potential and the ability to attend college and be incredibly successful, and while having CP may present additional or different obstacles to that success, determination and a desire to advocate for yourself will be your most powerful tool for success.
Aside from all the resources and support mechanisms discussed throughout this guide, students with cerebral palsy can find additional services through a range of national and local organizations that exist to champion and encourage individuals living with CP.