Building Strong Systems

Ability to Benefit

Updated August 2017

This financial aid initiative of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) allows students who did not receive a high school diploma or equivalent, or who did not complete a secondary school education in a home-school setting, to be eligible for Title IV financial aid. Students may qualify through a combination of identified Ability to Benefit (ATB) alternatives (e.g., passing an ED-approved placement exam, earning six credit hours/225 clock hours in an approved postsecondary program) and enrollment in an eligible career pathway program as determined by a Title IV-eligible institution’s staff.

In 2014, the Higher Education Act of 1965 was amended to restore such ATB alternatives. The definition for ATB in the Higher Education Act now also matches the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act definition.

Resources: Legislation (2015 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act)

Key Elements of the Career Pathway System
Select an Element

The ATB provision could provide a significant source of financial support to college-bound initiatives through access to Higher Education Act Title IV federal student aid. Because the provision allows for those without a formal diploma or equivalent to apply, participants who lack the recognized credential—a target population of many initiatives—could leverage this source of funding as an added support. This may remove the duplication of state dollars where this federal resource can supplement or supplant.

Federal Pell Grant access through the ATB could be used for both tuition-related expenses and living costs.

See CLASP's resources on Ability to Benefit.

Access comparative information in a print-friendly PDF.

Added to Comparison
Ability to Benefit

Does this information need updating or adjustment?
Send us your suggestions: