Resources on Ability to Benefit


Postsecondary education and the attainment of credentials are critical to individuals’ economic mobility and our nation’s economic competitiveness. With the cost of college tuition and fees rising each year, financial aid is essential for low-income students to access and complete education and training. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2012 eliminated the Ability to Benefit (ATB) provision, which provided federal financial aid to students who lacked a high school diploma or equivalent but could prove their ability to benefit from college by successfully completing six credits or passing an exam.

While Congress passed the latest iteration of the ATB provision in December 2014, practitioners, institutions, and states have progressed slowly in implementing it. ATB is a critical entry point into higher education for low-skilled adults. Leaders in states and higher education institutions must act today to make it a reality. Several states, such as Kentucky, Minnesota, and Washington have issued helpful guidance to institutions in their states to expedite the adoption of policies that accept ATB.

These resources provide best practices for states and institutions to help low-skilled students access financial aid, complete postsecondary credentials, and secure family-sustaining jobs. 


Ability to Benefit Fact Sheet
This fact sheet provides an overview of Ability to Benefit (ATB), which allows postsecondary students without a high school diploma or equivalency to receive Title IV student financial aid when they are dually enrolled in a career pathway program and in adult education.

Ability to Benefit: Developing a State-Defined Process
This brief encourages states to develop a state-defined process for Ability to Benefit (ATB). The ATB provision makes financial aid available to low-income people without a high school diploma or its equivalent (HSD/E). Challenges to implementing ATB are building awareness, educating actors about ATB’s requirements, and supporting proliferation. Policymakers and practitioners should understand these challenges as well as solutions for states and institutions.

Ability to Benefit: Understanding it & Implementing it at your Institution
Resource guide that helps institutions understand Ability to Benefit and its requirements and overcome implementation issues.

Ability to Benefit: Dual Enrollment for Adult Learners
Presentation by Erin Berg and Judy Mortrude detailing Ability to Benefit, explaining how to use it with career pathways, providing examples of adult program education that fit its criteria, addressing what prevents its use, and discussing related matters

Letter from Senators Enzi and Murray to the Department of Education regarding Ability to Benefit
Senators Enzi and Murray submitted this letter to the Department of Education requesting clarifying guidance related to the Ability to Benefit provisions of the Higher Education Act

Ability to Benefit profile on
Visual representation of the part Ability to Benefit can play in a career pathways system. 

Ability to Benefit: Connecting WIOA & Student Financial Aid to Educate Low-Skilled Students
Presentation from Judy Mortrude and Lauren Walizer at the Coalition on Adult Basic Education 2017 conference.

Integrated Education and Training: Model Programs for Building Career Pathways for Participants at Every Skill Level
CLASP’s Opportunities for Action memo defines Integrated Education and Training as a core education strategy for career pathways. 

Funding Student Skill Attainment & Success with Ability to Benefit
Presentation from Lauren Walizer at the National Council for Workforce Education 2016 conference.  

Accelerating Opportunity Kentucky and Washington State Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST)
These initiatives in Kentucky and Washington will use ATB (under the current definition) in their career pathways programs.

Federal Guidance Explains How the Ability to Benefit Provision Aligns with a Career Pathway
U.S. Department of Education issues guidance on the new (as of December 2015) definition of an eligible career pathway program.

Webinar and Call for Questions on Ability to Benefit (Issued November 9, 2015)
This webinar provides information on the new Ability to Benefit provision, including eligibility criteria, qualifying processes, definitions of key components of career pathway programs, and examples from the field.

CLASP In Focus Blog Post on ED Guidance Follow-up (Issued November 2, 2015)
The Department of Education clarifies the financial aid provision that helps low-income students.

Eligible Career Pathway Programs – Questions and Answers (Issued October 22, 2015)
The purpose of this guidance letter is to provide answers to some questions the U.S. Department of Education have received since publication of the Dear Colleague Letter GEN-15-09 in May 2015.

Career Pathway Programs and Title IV Eligibility Presentation
David Bartnicki of the Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education presented on career pathway programs and Title IV eligibility to the Mississippi Community College Board (September 15, 2015)

Operational Guidance on Reporting Student Eligibility Codes for All Students, Including Those Who Are Enrolled in an Eligible Career Pathway Program (Issued July 9, 2015)
The Federal Student Aid office issued a letter providing operational guidance on how schools will report student eligibility information for students receiving aid under the new ATB provision. The letter defines an “eligible” career pathway program and describes the Career Pathway alternative Pell Grant disbursement schedules. Furthermore, it provides information on additional resources about the system for processing ATB information.

New Guidance on the Partial Restoration of the ‘Ability to Benefit’ Provision for Title IV Federal Financial Aid (Issued June 1, 2015)
In a bulletin from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, new guidance on the partial restoration of the “Ability to Benefit” Provision for Title IV Federal Financial Aid was released.

CLASP In Focus Blog Post on Initial ED Guidance
CLASP examines the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance letter and how it expands access to federal aid for students in career pathways.

Title IV Eligibility for Students Without a Valid High School Diploma Who Are Enrolled in Eligible Career Pathway Programs (Issued May 22, 2015)
The U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid office issued a letter clarifying the changes made to the Title IV eligibility for students who are not high school graduates or in an eligible career pathway program under the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015.

Legislative text of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, establishing the Ability to Benefit Provision (see page 926), and a subsequent update to the definition of an eligible career pathway in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 (see page 397).