Case Study: Ability to Benefit in North Carolina

November 15th, 2023 | Blogs

By Ivana Hanson and Shirley Doan

This blog post is the third in the The Ability to Benefit Provision: Expanding Access to College for Adult Learners series. World Education’s National College Transition Network (NCTN) provided technical assistance to the North Carolina Community College System to expand usage of Ability to Benefit in North Carolina as part of the Advancing ATB for Equitable Access to Opportunity project. Read the first post, The Case for Ability to Benefit, to learn more about Ability to Benefit and Advancing ATB for Equitable Access to Opportunity, and visit the NCTN website for further guidance and resources.

Oftentimes, access to the education and training that individuals need to secure a good job paying sustainable wages is blocked when they do not have a high school diploma. Ability to Benefit opens up the doors to higher education for these individuals, providing an opportunity for them to demonstrate their ability to be successful in college programs while pursuing their secondary diploma. – Robin Norris Paulison, Dean for Adult Education & Literacy at Blue Ridge Community College

As part of the system’s commitment to the Racial Equity for Adult Credentials in Higher Ed (REACH) Collaborative, the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) signed on to the Advancing ATB for Equitable Access to Opportunity project with the goal of building and scaling an Ability to Benefit (ATB) infrastructure in two years. NCCCS recognizes that in order to meet the state’s goal of two million credentialed adults by 2030,1 specific attention must be given to adult learners. In North Carolina, the adult education system (referred to as College and Career Readiness (CCR)) is administered by the NCCCS, supporting the state’s ability to 1) promote dual enrollment in adult education and curriculum programs and 2) build on- and off-ramps for adult learners.

North Carolina is relatively new to the ATB space, but the state has made tremendous strides over the past year to advance the implementation of ATB at community colleges. First, the state is learning from its Basic Skills Plus program, which allows eligible CCR students without a high school diploma or equivalent to receive tuition waivers if they are concurrently enrolled in an adult education program and “courses providing employability skills, job-specific occupational or technical skills, or developmental education instruction.”2 Tuition for up to 12 credit hours in a curriculum program or up to 96 hours in a continuing education course can be waived.

When Basic Skills Plus was implemented in 2012, over 200 students enrolled each year during the first two years. However, since then, the number of enrolled students has dropped to under 100 per year, in sharp contrast to the high school dual enrollment figure of 68,477 students in 2020-2021.3 This significant drop in enrollment is attributed to multiple factors, including changes in standardized assessments that made it more difficult for students to qualify for Basic Skills Plus, and an increased focus on Measurable Skills Gain performance indicators in adult education programs. Despite this, NCCCS recognizes the important role initiatives like Basic Skills Plus and ATB can play in securing more equitable access to skills training and education opportunities for CCR students, especially the 70% of learners who are people of color.4

Second, NCCCS convened a team to meet monthly and develop a user guide on ATB implementation. The team consisted of NCCCS representatives, CCR directors, and financial aid staff. The guide was shared at the NC Community College Adult Educators Association (NCCCAEA) Fall 2023 conference in September, and NCCCS has scheduled a follow-up training. In conjunction, when a community college has identified who on their campus will be involved in implementing ATB, those identified staff members will be required to attend professional development sessions before the college can move forward with ATB implementation.

In the next year, NCCCS hopes to develop an ATB state defined process and submit it for approval. NCCCS also plans to run ATB pilots: the office will accept applications for funding from institutions seeking to cover the costs of ATB testing materials (for potential ATB students pursuing the test option) and/or six credit hours (for potential ATB students pursuing the six-credit option). These pilots will give NCCCS a better understanding of what is required for successful ATB implementation, build experts on the ground whom NCCCS can rely on for guidance, and hopefully draw a larger number of ATB students at select colleges.

In North Carolina, our 58 community colleges are the driving force for economic development through curriculum and workforce development programs. By incorporating Ability to Benefit into our toolbox of wrap-around supports, programs will be better positioned to meet the on-demand needs of students and the workforce. Especially at our rural colleges, where transportation is always an issue, allowing students to study for both their High School Equivalency and a career at the same time, makes sense. Access to financial aid will make a difference in the consistency and completion for students who often have to choose between school and paying the bills.” – Ivana Hanson, REACH Program Coordinator/Adult Learner Specialist at NCCCS


Ivana Hanson is the REACH Program Coordinator/Adult Learner Specialist at the North Carolina Community College System. To learn more about ATB efforts in North Carolina, contact Ivana at

  1. “Home – myFutureNC,” myFutureNC, accessed July 17, 2023,
  2. Basic Skills Plus Policies and Procedures Implementation Guide, North Carolina Community Colleges, June 2021,
  3. “Dual Enrollment Summary,” North Carolina Community Colleges, last modified March 2, 2022,
  4. “North Carolina Community Colleges: REACH Collaborative Overview,” North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges, November 18, 2021,

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