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Senators Take Action to Restore Access to Financial Aid for College-Ready Students without a High School Equivalency

Jul 23, 2013

Note: As of Wednesday, July 24th, this amendment will no longer be brought to a vote.

By Marcie Foster and Molly Fries

This week, Senators Patty Murray (WA) and Al Franken (MN) will introduce an amendment to the Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013 (S. 1334) that would strengthen the Pell Grant program in the coming years and increase access to federal student aid programs for low-income and underrepresented students.

The Murray-Franken Amendment would ensure that surplus savings from the student loan deal are used to help bolster the Pell Grant program in FY15—the first year of a projected funding shortfall. Currently, over nine million low and moderate-income students receive Pell Grants, which remain fundamental to their ability to enroll and persist in college by helping to reduce the need for student loans and the burden of debt.

The amendment also partially re-instates federal financial aid eligibility for students without a high school diploma or equivalency through the "Ability to Benefit" (ATB) option. Under the proposed amendment, ATB-eligible students could qualify for student financial aid (including Pell Grants) if they are enrolled in an eligible "career pathways program". This option was previously eliminated as one of several damaging eligibility cuts made through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2012, which collectively put college out of reach for thousands of students, particularly working, adult students with initially low skill levels. Students eligible for ATB are more likely to be low-income, first-generation and minority than other students receiving federal aid.

Career pathways is an innovative education and training model that has emerged in over a dozen states to ensure that low-skilled, low-income adults earn valuable labor market credentials more quickly than if they enrolled in a traditional, sequential postsecondary program. Recent studies show that students in these programs outperform similar students in earning college credits and certificates and in persisting to program completion and good jobs. These models are uniquely promising for adults without a high school diploma or equivalency who wish to accelerate their progress; they enable students to work toward a postsecondary education at the same they are building foundational basic skills.

Strengthening the Pell Grant program and allowing college-ready ATB students in career pathways programs equal access to financial aid expands economic opportunity for low-income individuals and helps the nation build a stronger, more skilled workforce. 

For more information about how the elimination of Ability to Benefit harms students and innovation, view, Eliminating "Ability to Benefit" Student Aid Options Closes Door to College Credentials for Thousands and Undermines Innovation>>

For answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the impact of ATB elimination on current and future students, view, FAQs on How the Loss of Ability to Benefit Options in Federal Student Aid Affects Those without a High School Diploma >>

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