Why College Is Even Harder for Disabled Students to Afford

It’s no secret that the cost of college in America is startling. In the United States, the average annual cost of education is $35,720 per student. With an annual growth rate of 6.8%, the cost has tripled in 20 years. For college students with disabilities, college can be even more challenging to afford. Some disabled college students might receive SSI or Supplemental Security Income. Unfortunately, SSI has an asset cap of $2000 for a single person and $3000 for a married couple. SSI often is spent on rent or utilities, which leaves very little money left over, and you cannot save money.

As a disabled college student myself, I know just how hard it can be to afford college. Even though working while in school is often recommended as a way to leave school with less debt overall, many college students with disabilities are unable to balance academics and jobs. For example, I have been searching for employment since 2019 and haven’t had any luck whatsoever. Cerebral Palsy also limits the types of jobs that I can perform. For instance, I couldn’t work as a waitress or in retail.

The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2020, 17.9 percent of Americans with a disability were employed, down from 19.3 percent in 2019. Complicating matters is the fact that job descriptions often include ableist language. Examples of such language include requirements such as lifting twenty-five lbs or having a driver’s license, even if the job itself doesn’t involve driving. As in the case of being a taxi driver or a pizza delivery person. When I encountered this language in job applications, sometimes I didn’t bother to finish the job application because I knew that it was unlikely that I would be selected. Being unemployed makes it difficult to pay any debt off later. Disabled people are more likely to be unemployed even with a college degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 28.5 percent of college graduates with a disability were employed in 2018, compared to 75.5 percent of non-disabled graduates.

Serving in the military is also sometimes discussed as a way to decrease the cost of college. As somebody living with Cerebral Palsy, serving in any military branch is impossible. I couldn’t serve in the military even if I wanted to. You must be incredibly physically fit to serve in the military.

All of my life, I was told how important going to college was for my future. I worked hard to go to college. However, I never thought about how expensive of an investment it was going to be. We need to make college affordable for all people, especially disabled people.


Allarakhia, Hawa. “Employability and College Graduates with Disabilities.” Diverse: Issues In Higher Education., Diverse: Issues In Higher Education., 5 Aug. 2019, http://www.diverseeducation.com/demographics/disabilties/article/15105185/employability-and-college-graduates-with-disabilities.

Altiraifi, Azza. “A Deadly Poverty Trap: Asset Limits in the Time of the Coronavirus.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Progress, 7 Apr. 2020, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/disability/news/2020/04/07/482736/deadly-poverty-trap-asset-limits-time-coronavirus/.

Hanson, Melanie. “Average Cost of College & Tuition” EducationData.org, 15 Aug. 2021, https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-college

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