NYS Student Financial Aid Programs and Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandate equal access to postsecondary institutions for students with disabilities. Such students can, however, be denied admission into a school, program, or class based on other qualifications or lack thereof. If they do not meet minimum required scores, fail to submit a part of the institution’s application, or haven’t taken the appropriate prerequisites, a school is well within its rights to reject the student’s application.

Similarly, NYS law mandates that students with disabilities be provided equal access to State-administered student financial aid programs. However, while students with disabilities must be provided equal access to such financial aid awards and provided accommodations to attend less than full-time, students with disabilities may be denied a NYS grant, scholarship or other award based on failure to meet other essential requirements of a program that must be met equally for all students.

The Excelsior Scholarship and Enhanced Tuition Awards Programs

The Excelsior Scholarship and Enhanced Tuition Awards (ETA) programs are designed to encourage students to earn their college degrees on time. For students without disabilities, this generally requires the completion of an Associate’s degree in two years and completion of a Bachelor’s degree in four-years (or five if the program normally requires five years).

Students with disabilities can take longer to complete their Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s degree and retain their Excelsior Scholarship or ETA eligibility if their disability requires them to attend less than full-time (meaning 30 credits per year, or its equivalent) or if they need to pause in their studies due to their disability. Students without disabilities can also take longer to complete their degrees due to a documented medical reason which temporarily requires that they attend less than full time or take a pause in their studies.

However, neither students with disabilities nor students without disabilities can receive or retain an Excelsior Scholarship or ETA award if they take longer to complete due to a change of majors or transfer to another college unless such change is a direct result of functional limitations resulting from the impairment that impacts the student’s ability to continue at the college or in the major. Specifically:

  • For individuals who have lost college credits due to a change in major or transfer of college, consideration for an award will only be given to students who provide medical documentation that clearly specifies that they (1) both (i) transferred to another college due to their disability or medical condition (e.g., the student must be cared for at home and, therefore, transferred to a college near their home) and (ii) changed majors, if applicable, because their previous major was not offered at their transfer college; or (2) were first diagnosed with their disability or medical condition after entering college/selecting their major, and their capacity to continue at that college or in pursuit of that major is or was limited by their disability or medical condition, resulting in the loss of credits.