Ability to Benefit and Defining Career Pathways

In May 2015, the Department of Education released its Dear Colleague Letter GEN-15-09  on the implementation of the “Ability-to-Benefit” (ATB) option for awarding Pell grants. ATB was partially restored in December 2014 and allows students without a high school diploma to access federal student aid funding if enrolled in career pathways programs, obtain six postsecondary credits, or pass an exam.

One of the most common questions asked by institutions seeking to operate under ATB is, “What is a career pathway program”? The new guidance specifies, that for the purposes of Pell eligibility, a “career pathway” program must:

  • Concurrently enroll students in connected adult education and Title IV eligible postsecondary programs
  • Provide enrolled students with structured course sequences that are articulated and contextualized
  • Be aligned with the education and skill needs of the regional economy
  • Have been developed and implemented in collaboration with partners in business, workforce development, and economic development

Individual institution are responsible for documentation verifying a program meets these requirements.  Additional details are provided in the Q and A about the concurrent enrollment requirement, and about transitioning students to full Pell grants.  

Question: What are your questions regarding the documentation process for establishing evidence of a career pathways program?  What is not covered in ED's Q and A?


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator