California needs a plan for federal aid for adult students without high school diplomas

December 23, 2019

Thousands more California residents might qualify for financial aid to attend college and earn credentials — and higher wages — if the state added its own option for students without high school diplomas to qualify for “ability to benefit,” or ATB, funds.

There are three ways for students to qualify for federal student aid through ATB, which was revived in 2015 (after being suspended in 2012): (1) by taking a test; (2) by completing six units in their pathway; or (3) by meeting the qualifications in a state-defined third option. California hasn’t yet developed a state option, while a few other states have done so or are in the process.

As demand for skilled workers continues rising, California’s entire economy could weaken if the number of students finishing degrees and credentials continues to lag behind. ATB is an important tool for boosting credential completion in California. 

Career Ladders Project is leading an effort to develop and propose a third option to support adult students in California without high school diplomas to qualify for ATB aid. CLP will engage researchers, stakeholders, policy makers, and key practitioners in this process. (Note that there is limited state financial aid for students without high school diplomas, but their access to federal aid, including Pell grants, is through ATB.)

Play CLP’s new Ability to Benefit Game to see the value of ATB! All you need is a single dice, a few small objects to use as game pieces, and a printer (for the game “board” and instructions). Here’s how to get started: 

For more information on ATB please see these resources from CLASP (the Center for Law and Social Policy, based in Washington, D.C.).

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