Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions about Our College Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

What is the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program?

AHRC New York City’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program at the City University of New York provides access to higher education for students with intellectual disabilities. Students pursue lifelong learning, explore career goals, gain responsibility, and learn collectively with all members of the college community. The program is designed to prepare students with intellectual disabilities for adult life through higher education coursework, campus life, civic engagement, self-advocacy curriculum, and career development.

Who is eligible to apply?

People with intellectual disabilities age 21 or over who reside in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Staten Island may apply for admission to the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program at the participating CUNY campus in their borough of residence. Applicants must be eligible for services from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, enrolled in the Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waiver, and have a Care Manager from a Care Coordination Organization.

Who is a good candidate for the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program?

Applicants are expected to demonstrate some basic literacy skills in reading and writing. They must have a strong desire to become an independent adult, and possess the stability and maturity to participate fully in the program. Applicants must have the desire and motivation to further their education and participate in campus life. They want to identify a career path for themselves, gain volunteer work experience, and build peer relationships. Applicants must be willing to become travel trained.

How long does it take to complete the program?

The Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program is a three-year program at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, plus one year of community-based alumni services. It is a four-year program at the College of Staten Island, Hostos Community College, and Kingsborough Community College, plus one year of community-based alumni services. The program is administered and maintained by AHRC New York City in collaboration with our CUNY partners.

What is the attendance policy for students in the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program?

Students are held to the same standard as all college students. When enrolled in classes, students cannot have more than three absences or they will automatically fail the course. Internships are the forum that will assist students to learn the consistency and commitment necessary to maintain long-term employment. For this reason, being present for all internship sessions is suggested. When college is not in session, the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program is still in session and requires students to be present.

What does a typical schedule look like for students?

The program operates five days a week throughout the year from 8:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Students take two to three college courses per semester, offered by CUNY’s community and senior colleges. Students also take two supplemental courses per semester, offered by AHRC New York City. When class is not in session, course assignments are completed during program hours. Students also participate in career development and work-based learning opportunities (such as on- and off-campus internships).

Who are peer mentors and what is their role?

Peer mentors are college students or recent graduates. They share the same interests, dreams, goals, culture, and more—like many other students. Peer mentors and students learn together, go to classes and internships together, and enjoy campus life together. They experience college together in a new way. Peer mentors are paid and trained by AHRC New York City to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are included in college.

How do students travel to classes and internships?

All students are required to learn how to travel independently. This includes using Access-A-Ride as an option. All students are reimbursed for all travel expenses. GPS devices while traveling are available.

What happens between semesters?

During these times (Summer, Spring Break, Winter Recess), our community becomes the learning environment. Students take the knowledge they have gained in college courses and combine it with real experiences that relate to their course of study. Students also take part in curriculum that incorporate their interests and have a strong community-based learning component.

How do we prepare students to become full members of the community?

We help students develop skills, learn to self-reflect, make informed decisions, accept challenges, build social networks, and make meaningful connections. Students are fully supported and included in all aspects of the college life. We help them develop a sense of self on the college campus, in the workplace, and in the community.

What do alumni services look like?

For one year after graduation, the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program offers graduates an opportunity for continued support through our Alumni Program. While searching for a job, graduates have the opportunity to continue to expand their skills in the following ways:

  • Continuing internships;
  • Taking classes in the local community;
  • Expanding independent travel skills;
  • Building networks and relationships;
  • Finding recreation opportunities; and
  • Enhancing natural supports.

Graduates receiving alumni services are supported by the same peer mentors that assisted them through college. They no longer come to the college campus. The program begins and ends at the home and all services are provided in their local community. Start and end times are flexible based on schedules and opportunities.

What will I get after completing the program?

Applicants are applying to a post-secondary education certificate program. Admitted students will receive person-centered supports and engage in a fully inclusive college experience. Students who successfully complete the program will be eligible to earn a CUNY Unlimited Credential in Academic and Career Studies and receive their personal portfolio upon graduation.

What is CUNY Unlimited?

CUNY Unlimited is a credential program in development through a grant partnership with AHRC New York City, CUNY, the JFK, Jr. Institute for Worker Education at the CUNY School of Professional Studies, the NYC Department of Education, and the University of Rochester. It expands access to college for students with intellectual disabilities. CUNY Unlimited will enable students participating in the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program to have full access to resources on campus.

How are program supports and services funded?

Supports and services provided by AHRC New York City are funded by Medicaid through the HCBS Waiver program. Access to college and campus resources provided by CUNY will be funded by the U.S. Department of Education through federal student aid, family contributions, and scholarships.

What do I need to know about college tuition costs?

CUNY Unlimited is in the process of applying to become an approved Comprehensive Transition Program (CTP) by Fall 2022. More information on tuition and program fees will be made available after CUNY Unlimited has completed its CTP application process. Qualified students accepted for enrollment in a CTP program will be eligible to apply for federal financial aid.

What types of federal student aid are available to help me pay for college?

If you have an intellectual disability, you may receive funding from the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and Federal Work-Student programs if you:

  • Are enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a CTP program for students with intellectual disabilities;
  • Are maintaining satisfactory academic progress; and
  • Meet the basic federal student aid eligibility requirements, except that you are not required to have a high school diploma or TASC (formerly GED) and are not required to be pursuing a degree or certificate.

How do I find out if I am eligible for financial aid?

Students and their families must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process for every school year the student plans to attend in order to determine financial aid eligibility. Completing the FAFSA form is free. To get started, visit For students entering the 2023–2024 academic year, the deadline is June 30, 2024. Students and their families are encouraged to complete the FAFSA sooner, before entering their first academic year, with assistance from a financial aid advisor appointed by the CUNY Unlimited credential program. For more information about how students with intellectual disabilities may be able to obtain certain types of federal financial aid, visit

What college expenses are covered by the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program?

The program pays for certain college supplies ranging from textbooks to notebooks/planners. Public transportation fees (bus/train/Access-A-Ride) are reimbursable. Lunch is not covered.

If I have any additional questions, who can I reach out to?

For applicants living in the Bronx or Brooklyn, please call Kensaku Matsuda at (646) 242-5112 or send him an email at For applicants living in Manhattan or Staten Island, please call Jessica Giorgio at (646) 599-1877 or send her an email at

How can I apply?

Get your copy of the Admissions Guide by visiting The application and supplemental application materials are available to download online. Complete and submit all required documents by December 1, 2022.

To download a copy of this FAQ, click here (PDF).

To return to the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program home page, click here.