Special Populations Definitions

Definitions and Explanations of Special Populations Categories


For reporting purposes a person with a disability is broadly defined as:

an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that subsequently limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual or has a record of such impairment or both.

Some suggested methods for identifying students with disabilities include: (1) voluntary self- identification, (2) health service records, (3) staff/counselor referrals, and (4) Department of Rehabilitation Services clients. More detailed information is available in the Students with Disabilities Types of Disability Definitions. See also Section 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12102).


Identification of disadvantaged persons should be based upon the following conditions:

  • The individual is not succeeding or cannot be expected to succeed in a postsecondary program without special assistance.
  • Individuals, not groups, are identified.
  • The individual is identified by the effect, not the cause, of his or her disadvantaged condition.
  • The individual's disadvantaged condition is a contributing factor to his or her lack of success.

The criteria are stated in general terms so that colleges may establish their own systems of identification based on the criteria. Because colleges must substantiate the identification procedures and demonstrate that related services were provided, it is essential that the actual procedures used for identification be clearly specified. The college is responsible for determining annually whether students need special services or special programs or both to develop their abilities in postsecondary programs of their interest and within their potential. There are two categories of disadvantaged students: economically disadvantaged and academically disadvantaged.

Economically Disadvantaged: a person who is identified on the basis of:

  • receipt of a Pell Grant or comparable state program of need-based financial assistance;
  • annual income is at or less than the official poverty level;
  • participant or participant's parent is a recipient of public assistance; or
  • participant is eligible for participation in programs assisted under WIOA.

Academically Disadvantaged: a person who is identified on the basis of:

  • performing at or below the 25th percentile on a standardized achievement or aptitude test in reading skills, writing skills, or math skills;
  • receiving a grade of D or below in a postsecondary class and needs support services to succeed in that class;
  • receiving remedial, developmental, ABE, or ASE instruction; or
  • being on academic probation.

Substantive evidence of the identification criteria must be on file at the college.


  • a secondary school student who is an English learner, as defined in section 8101 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965; or
  • an adult or an out-of-school youth who has limited ability in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language and—
    • whose native language is a language other than English; or
    • who lives in a family environment or community in which a language other than English is the dominant language. (Perkins V (full text))


  • means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and
  • includes —
    • children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;
    • individuals who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;
    • individuals who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
    • migratory children (as such term is defined in section 1309 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).


  • an individual who is a displaced homemaker, as defined in section 3 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (29 U.S.C. 3102); or
  • an individual who—
      • has worked primarily without remuneration to care for a home and family, and for that reason has diminished marketable skills; or
      • is a parent whose youngest dependent child will become ineligible to receive assistance under part A of title IV of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) not later than 2 years after the date on which the parent applies for assistance under such title; and
    • is unemployed or underemployed and is experiencing difficulty in obtaining or upgrading employment (Perkins V (full text))


A single parent (including single pregnant individuals) is defined as an individual that is:

  • Unmarried with a minor child/children under the age 18 years old OR
  • Legally separated from a spouse with a minor child/children under the age 18 years old OR
  • Single and legal guardian with a minor child/children under the age 18 years old

A married parent (including married pregnant individuals) means an individual that is

  • Married with a minor child/children under the age 18 years old OR
  • Married legal guardian with a child/children under the age 18 years old


Identification of individuals who are in, or have aged out of, the foster care system should be based on the following definitions:

  • The term foster care refers to the full-time substitute care of children outside their own home by people other than their biological or adoptive parents or legal guardians.
  • “Youth Who Are In, Or Have Aged Out Of, the Foster Care System” refers to an individual 21 or younger for whom the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is currently or was previously legally responsible. This means an individual for whom the Department has (or had) temporary protective custody, custody or guardianship via court order, or a child whose parents have signed an adoptive surrender or voluntary placement agreement with the Department.


Identification of youth with a parent who is a member of the armed forces and on active duty should be based upon the following definitions:

  • The term “armed forces” is defined as being a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. [Section 101(a)(4) of Title 10, United States Code]
  • The term “active duty” is defined as full-time duty in the active military service of the United States. Such term includes full-time training duty, annual training duty, and attendance, while in the active military service, at a school designated as a service school by law or by the Secretary of the military department concerned. Such term does not include full-time National Guard duty. [Section 101(d)(1) of Title 10, United States Code]