Opportunities for Further Investment in Ability to Benefit

November 29th, 2023 | Blogs


A timeline of the history of Ability to Benefit, highlighting its past challenges and current progress in implementation.

By Judy Mortrude and Shirley Doan

This blog post is the fifth and final in the The Ability to Benefit Provision: Expanding Access to College for Adult Learners series. 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 World Education’s National College Transition Network website for further guidance and resources.

With interest in Ability to Benefit (ATB) continuing to grow, many opportunities for further investment at the state and institutional levels lie ahead. The A2B4Equity project – funded by ECMC and launched by Corporation for a Skilled Workforce and the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh, in partnership with the Office of Community College Research and Leadership at the University of Illinois and World Education – is currently investigating the use of college promise program funding to pay for the first six credit hours that learners need to complete in order to be eligible for ATB.

The project focuses on Black, Hispanic, and other underserved students who have traditionally been left behind in both secondary and postsecondary education, and four community colleges – two in the City Colleges of Chicago system and two in the state of Michigan – are participating in the pilot. The lessons learned and resulting research from A2B4Equity could provide further evidence that ATB is effective, spur similar innovative models elsewhere, and assuage the concerns of those who believe ATB and adult learners are not worth the investment.

The interest ATB has received also demonstrates a continued need to build awareness and to support both states and institutions through an intentional implementation process. For example, the potential and underutilization of ATB as a financial aid tool was featured in a recent article by Center for American Progress, bringing national attention to the provision. As another example of nationwide interest, over 300 practitioners registered for a national webinar on ATB that World Education held in partnership with the Coalition on Adult Basic Education in March. State offices, institutions of higher education, and adult education providers alike will need focused technical assistance to turn their newfound awareness of ATB into sustained practice.

At the same time, there is a need to support the field through upcoming changes to ATB. With the new ATB regulations going into effect on July 1, 2024, there will be new documentation and approval processes for the eligible career pathway programs by which ATB learners must be served. The new rules also mean new partnerships between adult education and higher education: this is the optimal time to support and scale dual enrollment in WIOA Title II and community college career pathways through a national awareness campaign and technical assistance project.

Regardless of the changes in regulation, ATB remains a critical racial equity strategy for states and institutions committed to ensuring equitable opportunities to success for every adult in a post-pandemic economy. With the ever increasing costs of postsecondary education, the momentum around ATB is essential to keep moving the needle forward for students of color.

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