JFF Working for Students' "Ability to Benefit"

Published jun. 18, 2012

JFF has been working with its partners to help reinstate the "Ability to Benefit" (ATB) provisions of the Higher Education Act since its elimination in last year’s Consolidated Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2012. For years, ATB has allowed students without a high school diploma or a GED to qualify for federal aid by passing a specified test or successfully completing six hours of postsecondary education.

ATB’s elimination, which is scheduled to become effective in July, comes at a time when many states and local communities are transforming their adult and postsecondary education systems—enabling adults without a diploma or GED to co-enroll in adult education at the same time as they take postsecondary classes—accelerating their pathways to postsecondary credentials and good jobs.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray took a critical first step toward addressing this problem last week by successfully including an amendment in the Senate’s FY13 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill that would reinstate ATB for students who are concurrently enrolled in adult and postsecondary education programs as part of a career pathways program. The bill was passed by the full Senate Appropriations Committee and reported for consideration by the full Senate.

As Senator Murray explained: “This amendment will make sure students in high quality career pathway programs won’t be cut off from the federal financial aid they need to continue their education and train for a career. It doesn’t make sense to punish students we know would benefit from postsecondary education and training, and this amendment will make sure we don’t. This amendment is good for students working hard to upgrade their skills and get better jobs, and it’s good for businesses looking for skilled workers.

The appropriations process will in all probability be a long one, with final funding decisions for FY13 likely not made until after the election. This first step however was critical. Senator Murray and her staff put many hours of effort into attaining this provision’s inclusion in the Appropriations bill. We thank her for her diligent efforts; we also thank Chairmen Harkin and Inouye and the Appropriations Committee for allowing this amendment to be included in the Committee-reported bill. Finally, JFF thanks its partners who have worked diligently in providing expressions of support to their own members of Congress, which have been instrumental in helping Senator Murray garner support.

JFF and its partners will continue to weigh in with House members, particularly with leadership and members of the House Committee on Appropriations in support of this provision’s inclusion in a final Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill.