Students without a High School Diploma or GED to Lose Access to Student Aid

Mar 29, 2012

By Marcie Foster

After July 1, 2012, newly enrolled college students without a high school diploma or secondary school equivalent will no longer be eligible for federal student aid, due to the elimination of the “Ability to Benefit” (AtB) options by Congress in December 2011. The loss of AtB options threatens the economic mobility of low-skilled adults and youth seeking postsecondary credentials to improve their job prospects. Furthermore, it is disproportionately harmful to low-income, first generation, and minority students.

Two new CLASP resources released this week lay out the facts of the issue and explain why reinstatement of the provision is essential for maintaining access to education and training for low-income, low-skilled students. 

The Ability to Benefit provisions allow students without a high school diploma or secondary school equivalent to demonstrate their readiness for postsecondary education by either passing a skills test or successfully completing six college credits. Students who qualify under either of these options are eligible to receive student financial aid (depending on their further income eligibility) for the remainder of their college certificate or degree program.

  • FAQs on How the Loss of Ability to Benefit Options in Federal Student Aid Affects Those without a High School Diploma, will help state administrators, program staff, and practitioners in adult education and higher education understand the known details of this provision. It provides recommendations for further implementation of the grandfathering of students, and discusses why the AtB policy is essential for maintaining access to education and training for low-income, low-skilled students. Most importantly, it clarifies that the elimination of AtB applies only to students without U.S. high school diplomas or equivalents who are newly enrolled in a college program eligible for federal financial aid after July 1, 2012. 

Reinstating the “Ability to Benefit” options will require legislative action from Congress to fully restore them for federal student aid. To prevent a lapse in eligibility for the thousands of students who could benefit from this provision, action must be taken before the provision expires on July 1, 2012.

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