New Rules Coming for Ability to Benefit
August 29th, 2022 | Blogs
August 29th, 2022 | Blogs
To reach a consensus on regulatory changes for programs authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA), the U.S. Department of Education recently held a series of meetings with representatives from parties who will be significantly impacted by the new regulations. While a variety of topics were discussed, negotiators reached consensus on just two topics: 90/10 and Ability to Benefit.
Ability to Benefit (ATB) is the provision in HEA which allows a person to be enrolled in a high school completion program and – at the same time – enroll in and receive federal financial aid for an HEA Title IV eligible postsecondary program (i.e., a program for which a student can receive federal financial aid). Essentially, ATB facilitates adult dual enrollment in adult and postsecondary education.
While the negotiation of ATB focused on the little-utilized state defined process, the change proposed will impact all three ATB options, i.e., testing, 6-credit hour completion, and the state process. The Department will put in place a process that requires Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) to demonstrate that the educational programs accessed via ATB are eligible career pathway programs.
To determine if programs are eligible career pathway programs, the proposed regulations use the full federal career pathway definition, first written into the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) and now also in the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21 Century Act (Perkins V), as well as HEA. The use of the same definition in the three federal laws that impact adult learners supports creating the partnerships between adult education and postsecondary education needed for a successful ATB strategy.
Eligible career pathway program: A program that combines rigorous and high-quality education, training, and other services that–
Beyond using this shared definition, the proposed regulations include a process for institutions of higher education to demonstrate that a person using ATB is enrolled in an eligible career pathway program.
§668.157 Eligible Career Pathway Program.
(A) An institution demonstrates to the Secretary that a student is enrolled in an eligible career pathway program by documenting that–
1. The student has enrolled in or is receiving all three of the following elements simultaneously —
(i) An eligible postsecondary program as defined in § 668.8
(ii) Adult education and literacy activities under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as described in 34 CFR 463.30 that assist adults in attaining a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent and in the transition to postsecondary education and training; and
(iii) Workforce preparation activities as described in 34 CFR 463.34.
2. The program aligns with the skill needs of industries in the State or regional labor market in which the institution is located, based on research the institution has conducted, including–
(i) Government reports identifying in-demand occupations with the greatest hiring demand in the State or regional labor market;
(ii) Surveys, interviews, meetings, or other information obtained by the institution regarding the hiring needs of employers in the State or regional labor market; and.
(iii) Documentation that demonstrates direct engagement with industry.
3. The skill needs described in paragraph (a)(2) of this section align with the specific coursework and postsecondary credential provided by the postsecondary program or other required training;
4. The program provides academic and career counseling services that assist students in pursuing their credential and obtaining jobs aligned with skill needs described in paragraph (a)(2) of this section, and identifies the individuals providing the career counseling services;
5. The appropriate education is offered concurrently with and in the same context as workforce preparation activities and training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster through an agreement, memorandum of understanding, or some other evidence of alignment of postsecondary and adult education providers that ensures the secondary education is aligned with the students’ career objectives ; and
6. The program is designed to lead to a valid high school diploma as defined in § 668.16 or its recognized equivalent.
In a nutshell, the proposed process requires demonstration of:
What hasn’t changed? ATB remains the funding strategy for adult education programs offering integrated education and training in partnership with a community college for-credit program. These programs can provide access to a Pell grant and other student financial aid to cover not only tuition and fees but also living expenses.
The new rules are estimated to be in effect beginning in July 2023. Until then, the existing ATB rule continues. Moving forward, partners should review these proposed regulations and consider how they can incorporate this process of eligible career pathway design and documentation into their adult career pathway programs.