Provision offers free tuition to deaf students

The state’s resident deaf students who receive federal or state Pell Grants are entitled to free tuition.

Than Tibbetts

With the signing of the state’s higher-education bill on May 26, deaf students from Minnesota received an opportunity for easier access to higher education.

Included in the $2.8 billion higher-education budget bill was a provision that the state’s resident deaf students who receive state or federal Pell Grants are entitled to full tuition and fees coverage at the University and at other state colleges and universities.

Bobbi Cordano, University Disability Services director, said she does not know if the new law will increase the number of deaf and hard-of-hearing students, but it could improve their access to the University.

“We probably have one of the most vibrant deaf communities in the nation here in the Twin Cities,” Cordano said. “That’s one of the reasons we saw this law go into effect.”

According to Disability Services, 64 students identified themselves as hard of hearing, deaf or deaf-blind last year, and 74 students identified themselves as blind, low vision or no vision.

Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, the chief author of the bill, said advocates asked him to support the legislation, but Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, deserves most of the credit for the provision.

“It’s an access issue,” he said.

Cordano said legally blind students from Minnesota can receive tuition waivers at the University.

“My understanding was that this was an initiative that really largely came out of the deaf community here in Minnesota,” she said. “They wanted to have broader access to the University in the same way that the blind community does with the blind tuition waiver.”

Craig Swan, University vice provost for undergraduate education, said the University is already a half-step ahead of the legislation with the Founders Opportunity Scholarship, which University President Bob Bruininks announced in his State of the University address in February.

The scholarship would give tuition and fees support through grants and work-study programs to students who qualify for federal Pell Grants.

This would cover deaf students who have received a Pell Grant, Swan said. Deaf students who still receive a state grant but not a Pell Grant would be eligible, however.

Abeler said he can foresee a similar request for tuition assistance for blind students at Minnesota state colleges and universities.

Cordano said blind students have been eligible for tuition waivers since the 1930s.

She said the true number of deaf, hard-of-hearing or blind students could be even higher than what has been reported to Disability Services.

“It is quite possible that there are several thousand hard-of-hearing students but who have not identified themselves to Disability Services, even though they may qualify for them,” she said.