Senate Subcommittee Continues Investments to Keep College Affordable for Low-Income Students

Jun 17, 2014

Katherine Saunders and Marcie Foster

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies marked up a bill would continue funding for financial aid programs that make college possible for low-income students and underprepared students.

The bill supports the following investments:

  • Increases the maximum Pell award by $100 to $5,830 for the 2015-2016 academic year;
  • Increases the Federal Work Study and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant programs by a combined $50 million to support increasing college access for low-income students; and
  • Restores Pell Grant eligibility to students without a high school diploma or equivalency who are enrolled in career pathway programs (commonly known as “ability to benefit”).

The ability to benefit provision was eliminated by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of FY 2012, which resulted in many low-income and low-skilled adults and youth losing access to postsecondary education and training programs that led to credentials and obtain family-supporting employment. Students who qualified for federal financial aid under the ATB option are more likely to be low-income, first generation, and minorities than other students who receive aid.

The career pathways approach connects progressive levels of education, training, support services, and credentials for specific occupations in a way that optimizes the progress and success of individuals with varying levels of abilities and needs. For students who are initially underprepared, programs aligned within a career pathway can be structured to help them enter a career pathway and advance over time and into successively higher levels of skills, credentials, and employment in a shorter time and more reliably than traditional, sequential programs. One such program—Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST)--integrated basic education skills with job-training and has become a national model to help students build job skills and attain postsecondary degrees and credentials. The I-BEST program has shown early signs of success, reporting that I-BEST students are more likely than regular adult education students to earn college credit, earn a certificate or degree, and achieving learning gains on basic skills tests.

The Senate’s LHHS spending bill shows support for continued federal funding of programs that enable millions of low- and moderate-income Americans to access college and create better lives for themselves and their families.

The full Appropriations Committee has not yet scheduled its markup of the bill. The House has not yet released a spending bill for these programs.

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