Update on Pell “Ability to Benefit” Students

(Updated Below)

On December 15th, I wrote about a provision that was included in the House version of the FY 2012 omnibus appropriation package that proposed to eliminate Pell grant eligibility for students without high school diplomas (known as “ability to benefit,” or ATB students).

Unfortunately, this provision was included in the final package that was passed at the end of the year. In my earlier post I mentioned that I did not have a current estimate of the number of people without high school credentials who attend postsecondary education—and I still don’t—but in a letter sent on December 6th by the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce to the Senate Appropriations Committee, they included an estimate of the number of ATB students who until recently were eligible for Pell Grants: approximately 100,000.

If you are interested in this subject I recommend reading the enitre letter; here is the section regarding ATB:

Unfortunately, the House FY 2012 Labor‐H draft bill contains a number of permanent programmatic changes that will wash out the path to postsecondary credentials, making it harder for these individuals to achieve the American dream, including:

  • Eliminates access to Pell Grants for “ability‐to‐benefit” students. Current law permits individuals without a high school diploma or equivalent to qualify for Pell Grants by completing an “ability to benefit” test or by successfully completing six credits towards a certificate or degree. This option is particularly important for low‐skilled individuals participating in “career pathways” programs, which have proven effective and efficient in combining basic adult education with occupational training to allow participants to more quickly earn industry‐recognized credentials necessary to find good jobs and progress in their careers. The House bill would completely eliminate access to Pell Grants for approximately 100,000 individuals who rely on this provision each year, while generating minimal savings.

UPDATE 3/20/12: For those of you who have stumbled upon this article looking for more detailed information about the changes, this article, published by Inside Higher Ed today, is a good primer on both the changes and the issues they present for students and institutions.