Could 2019 be the Year of ATB?

By Lauren Walizer and Judy Mortrude

In our efforts to improve the ability of people with low incomes to get the education and training they need for quality jobs with family-sustaining wages, CLASP frequently works with state and federal administrators and policymakers. In that context, we’ve been pleased to see increased interest in Ability to Benefit (ATB), the federal financial aid provision that allows people without a high school diploma or its equivalent to begin their postsecondary education while building foundational skills and completing a secondary credential. We saw an example of this momentum just a few weeks ago when CLASP staff and a representative from the Mississippi Community College Board met with U.S. Department of Education (ED) staff to discuss opportunities for ED to increase its engagement with the field about ATB.

ATB is a powerful tool because it makes educational success financially possible for students with diverse needs, while ensuring they get education and training that prepares them to be successful in a full range of secondary and postsecondary education options. It is truly a dual enrollment strategy for adults who are taking advantage of their states’ adult basic education programming and of community college at the same time.

Despite playing such a key role in supporting adult education students, ATB is currently underutilized because administrators, teachers, and students don’t understand it as well as they should. ED has an important responsibility to correct the confusion and misinformation we’re seeing among states and institutions about the program and its eligibility requirements. 

We presented ED with recommendations for boosting the power of ATB, while Nikitna Barnes from the Mississippi Community College Board presented on the success of the state’s MiBEST program, which heavily leverages ATB. This meeting was just the first step in what we anticipate will be much more activity around ATB in 2019. We look forward to continuing to work with ED, states, and institutions to support the spread of ATB-eligible programs across the country. 

For additional information on ATB, please see CLASP’s Resources on Ability to Benefit.