Disabled can get college aid

Personal Finance

Your Money

November 07, 2006|By Eileen AMbrose | Eileen AMbrose,Sun Columnist

Bonnie has a dream for her three daughters. The problem is paying for it.

One daughter is a sophomore at a four-year state university. Another is a freshman at a community college. And the third is a senior in high school.

But the single parent from Reisterstown says she's not just dealing with school costs. One daughter has epilepsy and the other two have learning disabilities. Medical bills eat up a big chunk of Bonnie's $70,000 annual income. And that's not factored in when it comes to financial aid, she says.

"My children are bright but will not qualify for scholarships due to difficulty getting the `grades,'" Bonnie writes in an e-mail. "I have exhausted all traditional possibilities. I want the children to have the opportunity to attend college but am looking at selling my home to finance school. Am wondering if this is a wise choice."

College aid experts agree: Don't.

The house isn't considered in federal financial aid. But selling the home and putting the proceeds in the bank would work against the family in aid formulas later, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid, an online provider of financial aid.

Besides, it would mean having to find another place to live.

Experts offer other suggestions:

Ask the university's financial aid office for a "professional judgment review," Kantrowitz says. Bonnie can present the medical expenses that are reducing her income for review, which could lead to an adjustment in her daughter's aid package, he says.

Bonnie shouldn't give up on scholarships, Kantrowitz says. He recommends the HEATH Resource Center's Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities, a publication that provides scholarship information. His Web site, www.fin- aid.com, also provides links to resources on college aid for those with disabilities.

And if Bonnie hasn't tried already, she can conduct a scholarship search for students with epilepsy at www.fastweb.com, Kantrowitz says.

Ron Shunk, director of financial aid at Hood College in Frederick, says states generally offer tuition assistance to residents with disabilities who need an education for work. Bonnie should explore whether her daughter with epilepsy might be eligible for Maryland's program. Information about the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services is available online at www.dors.state.md.us/dors or by calling 410-554-9385.

Borrowing is a common way to finance college. A home equity loan or refinancing to pull cash out of the house are options, provided Bonnie can shoulder the increased debt, K.C. Dempster of the firm College Money says in an e-mail. The New Jersey firm offers college planning for families.

Besides student loans, there's the Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students. This federal loan covers the cost of college - tuition, fees, books and living expenses - minus any financial aid.

"Bonnie is to be congratulated on her determination to provide the best educational opportunity to her children as she can. However, she needs to keep her own future in mind as well," Dempster adds.

"Most parents don't want to saddle their children with education debt, but that might be her best option. They will have a longer time to repay the education debt than she does since she is closer to retirement."

Questions? Comments? Write personal.finance@baltsun.com.

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