Case Study: Ability to Benefit in Texas

November 22nd, 2023 | Blogs


Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, President of Amarillo College, addresses Ability to Benefit at the Texas Pathways Institute in November 2022.

By Dr. Kristina Flores and Shirley Doan

This blog post is the fourth 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 Texas Success Center to expand usage of Ability to Benefit in Texas 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.

The Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC), which serves public community college districts in the state, is committed to “[changing] lives through social and economic mobility.”1 To that end, TACC established the Texas Success Center (TSC) to provide statewide coordination of student success strategies and to tighten the linkage between practice, research, and policy.

In particular, TSC supports Texas community college districts in the implementation of Texas Pathways: “a comprehensive, statewide five-year strategy” to “build [community colleges’] capacity to implement structured academic and career pathways at scale for all students.”2 Texas Pathways “guides students from the selection of their high school endorsement through postsecondary education to attainment of high-quality credentials and careers with value in the labor market.”3 Colleges clarify paths to students’ end goals; help students choose, enter, and stay on their pathway; and ensure students are learning. With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the implementation of Texas Pathways and increasing the need to upskill and reskill unemployed Texans, Ability to Benefit (ATB) continues to be a critical strategy in ensuring access to postsecondary credentials for Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) students enrolled in Texas community colleges.

As part of the Advancing ATB for Equitable Access to Opportunity project, TSC contracted two leaders in Texas AEL integration from Amarillo College, Dr. Tamara Clunis and Michelle Lamons. Dr. Clunis and Ms. Lamons created an Ability to Benefit Resource Toolkit template for Texas community colleges, and held a half-day session on ATB and using the toolkit at the Texas Pathways Institute in November 2022. During the session, 120 participants developed a common understanding of ATB, reviewed recent research and resources related to AEL integration in community college systems, and worked together with others from their institution to customize the toolkit and discuss next steps.

Ms. Lamons built upon this foundational work at the subsequent Talent Strong Texas Pathways Institute in April 2023, where she reiterated the case for utilizing ATB and hosted a panel of experts who shared how ATB was implemented at Victoria College, Amarillo College, Del Mar College, and Austin Community College. Ms. Lamons also joined Dr. Kristina Flores at the Texas Community College Instructional Administrators Summer Leadership Conference in June to share her research on ATB and reiterate a call to action to align ATB opportunities with new performance-based funding incentives in the state.4 Lastly, Dr. Clunis and Ms. Lamons presented on ATB at the Amarillo College Love x Learning Summit, also in June. These professional learning opportunities have collectively broadened the field’s awareness of ATB, explicitly connected ATB to the Texas Pathways strategy, and highlighted best practices around ATB usage with practical examples.

Katherine Dowdy, Executive Director of Adult Education and Literacy at Austin Community College; Dr. Jennifer Kent, President of Victoria College; and Dr. Tamara Clunis, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Amarillo College, discuss the Adult Education and Literacy programs at their respective colleges at the Texas Pathways Institute in April 2023.

In summer 2023, TSC collected information from colleges about the development of AEL pathways and ATB integration through the Guided Pathways Scale of Adoption Assessment process. Colleges reported on their efforts to develop and scale systematic supports for AEL students, including the development of IET programs, implementation of ATB and other funding structures, and systematization of pathways from AEL to credit programs at the college. In 2019, sixteen colleges reported that their pathways for AEL students were scaling or at scale. This number increased to seventeen colleges in 2021 and to twenty-four colleges in 2023, suggesting that TSC’s ATB efforts, including providing actionable tools to all colleges in 2022, supported colleges in making significant progress scaling systematic pathways and supports for AEL students.


Dr. Kristina Flores is the Director of Research and Evaluation at the Texas Success Center. To learn more about ATB efforts in Texas, contact Dr. Flores at

  1. “Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC),” Texas Association of Community Colleges, accessed July 17, 2023,
  2. “Texas Pathways,” Texas Success Center, Texas Association of Community Colleges, accessed July 17, 2023,
  3. “Texas Pathways.”
  4. “Texas House Bill 8 becomes law, paves way for innovative community college funding,” Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, June 9, 2023,

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