Senate Appropriations Committee Takes Steps to Restore Financial Aid for College-Ready Adults without a High School Diploma

On June 14, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2013 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill that sets funding levels for key education and training programs. Importantly, the bill also includes an amendment that would restore financial aid eligibility for some students without a high school diploma or its equivalent who are able to demonstrate their ability to benefit from college-level coursework. The provision would allow this eligibility only for ATB-eligible students who are enrolled in career pathway programs, a program model which CLASP has long-supported.

This is the first action to restore eligibility for these students since Congress eliminated it late last year in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2012.   Before its elimination, students without a high school degree or GED who passed a test proving their ability to succeed in college were eligible to receive federal student financial aid. The elimination is set to go into effect July 1, 2012. Without action, many low-income and low-skill students will lose the opportunity for this valuable aid and may not be able to afford a higher education. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee action would specifically restore the “ability to benefit” (AtB) options for students who are enrolled in programs that are part of a career pathway-a series of education and training courses that lead to a high-demand, employer-valued certificate or degree. Career pathways are gaining traction in states seeking to increase the number of adults and out-of-school youth who have access to college and training programs and complete such programs, helping these workers gain greater self-sufficiency.

Students who qualify for federal aid under the ability to benefit option are more likely to be low-income, first generation and minority than other students receiving federal aid. An estimated 31 percent of AtB students are Hispanic and 19 percent are black – compared to 14 percent of all undergraduates who are Hispanic or black.

The bill also keeps funding at FY12 levels for critical education and training programs, such as job training programs under Title I of the Workforce Investment Act, adult education programs under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, and career and technical education under the Carl D. Perkins Act. In addition, the Committee increased the maximum Pell grant to $5,635 from $5,550. To offset this increase, the bill includes cost-saving reforms to the student financial aid program, including limiting the in-school interest subsidy for subsidized Stafford loan borrowers to 150 percent of the normal educational program length, and preventing room and board from being covered through Pell grants for those students who are in distance education programs.

Funding for a $50 million Workforce Innovation Fund (WIF), which provides competitive grants to improve the delivery of job training and education programs, is also included, but funded only through the Department of Labor. This is an adjustment from the President’s budget request, which funded the WIF through a variety of funding sources, including adult education funds.

For these funding levels and reforms in the Senate appropriations bill to become law, the House and Senate would have to come to an agreement on funding levels and policy riders included in the bill. In the meantime, CLASP will continue to analyze the various proposals and advocate for sufficient funding and policies to strengthen our workforce and keep the opportunity of a higher education open to all.

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 >>