Using Ability to Benefit in Your Program: What is Your Experience?

Hello, Colleagues -

As you know, Ability to Benefit (AtB) is designed to reduce barriers to higher education for learners without a high school credential. It also allows adult and higher education institutions to partner in serving these learners, and better integrate their financial aid systems with WIOA.

The Career Pathways Checklist states that it is intended to be used by: Financial aid counselors and administrators responsible for administering the AtB provisions of the Higher Education Act (HEA), that allow a student who does not have a high school diploma (or its recognized equivalent) to be eligible for Title IV, HEA student assistance through one of the AtB alternatives if the student is enrolled in an “eligible career pathway program” that aligns to the statutory requirements in WIOA. 
The Department also offers a Program Integrity Q&A on Ability-to-Benefit, with resources intended to help programs adhere to AtB's requirements and provisions for serving the needs of eligible learners.
Have you used AtB with low-skilled adults in your program?   What have been your successes and/or challenges?
Mike Cruse
Career Pathways Moderator


Helping your college utilize FA for ATB students is an access game changer.  Use the toolkit and build a process and relationship with the college registrar!  It’s worth it for students! 

In reply to by

Hi Regina,

Thanks for the suggestion that programs should build a relationship with their community college registrar. Any tips for how they can help the registrar better understand and use the AtB? Do you have any suggestions for HSE programs that may not be sponsored by a community college, for example are CBO or public school sponsored adult basic skills programs.  Also, can you tell us more about how your community college has used the toolkit, and how many students may have now benefited from using the AtB?


David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Program Management group


Hi, Regina -

Thanks for sharing some of your experience with AtB.  It's great to hear that it's changing the game for learners in Arizona.  It's also good to know that you found the Career Pathways Toolkit a valuable resource for connecting with your registrar.  Your comment reminds me of the old line that the most important person in a business isn't the president, but their secretary/admin. asst.  It would be great to hear more about how you developed that relationship with the registrar to benefit eligible students.


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator


It is good to hear that you have had some success with ATB. Do you require a student who enrolls without a HSE diploma to achieve a HSE diploma before they complete the program? Or do you award them a HSE after they have completed their college coursework? What type of programs are the students enrolling in?



Thanks for joining the conversation.  When you ask, "What type of programs are the students enrolling in?", are you asking about certificate vs. degree, the field of study, or both?    

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) has a short, but through, implementation guide that can help answer many questions.

As far as the question about the order in which learners are earning a HSE diploma, I believe it must be earned before the post-secondary credential, or concurrently with it.   

According to CLASP, To award aid using ATB, institutions must follow the same rules and procedures as for awarding Title IV aid in other contexts, with one additional requirement: documentation. ED guidance says institutions must document the following when awarding aid using ATB:

• How the career pathway meets each of the listed elements in the definition (A-G).

• How the career pathway includes workforce preparation activities and training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster and is aligned with local needs.

That the student both: completed the exam/6 credits/state process to make them eligible for aid through ATB; and is enrolled in adult education and postsecondary (concurrent enrollment is not required).

The Department of Education (ED) also provides guidance that may help answer some of these questions.  ED makes the following clear, The component of the eligible career pathway program that enables an individual to attain a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent may not be paid for using Title IV aid and should not be incorporated into a student’s Title IV enrollment status or Title IV cost of attendance as defined in section 472 of the HEA. Only the enrollment status and costs associated with the Title IV eligible postsecondary program component can be paid for using Title IV aid. In developing an eligible career pathway program, institutions should work closely with an appropriate adult secondary school education provider and with their financial aid administrator to ensure that the program is eligible for Title IV aid. 

These guidelines advise that concurrent enrollment is possible, but not a requirement.  However, AtB funds can only be used to pay for the career training, and not for the academic education supporting the HSE completion.  It's important for adult education programs to work closely with their pathways partners to make sure learners are completing a sequence that includes their HSE, their first six post-secondary credits, that leads to a defined career pathway.  Partners have a great deal of flexibility in structuring how the sequence will work for their individual learners, which requires careful program planning and coordination.

It would be helpful to hear from programs that have developed pathways, which are working for learners.  Share with us how you are connecting with learners, and guiding them through the different stages of your pathways program. 


Mike Cruse