What is Ability to Benefit?

The Ability to Benefit (ATB) provision in the Higher Education Act gives adults without a high school diploma or equivalent access to federal student aid. ATB is a critical dual enrollment strategy for ensuring equitable access to postsecondary education for adults working to complete their secondary credential. Unfortunately, ATB is poorly understood and massively underutilized, in no small part due to the fluctuation of legislative approval.

Timeline of the history of Ability to Benefit (ATB), demonstrating its evolution, complications, and progress

Under ATB, eligible adults can receive federal student aid (primarily Pell Grants) to simultaneously complete their high school credential while earning a postsecondary credential. To be eligible for ATB, an adult must enroll in an eligible career pathway program AND do one of three options:

  1. pass a US Department of Education-approved test;
  2. complete 6 credit hours towards a postsecondary credential; or
  3. be admitted through a “state defined process.”

Learn more about Ability to Benefit.

NCTN’s ATB Projects

NCTN provides technical assistance to state systems to scale and sustain Ability to Benefit implementation. If you are seeking technical assistance for your state or institution, email Judy Mortrude at judy_mortrude@worlded.org.

ATB Resources

NCTN has compiled a comprehensive list of ATB resources for states and practitioners. View the ATB resources page.

NCTN Resources on ATB

  • Data visualizations on ATB usage by state: Coming soon.
  • Blog post: New Rules Coming for Ability to Benefit (2022): Details on upcoming changes for Ability to Benefit as a result of the U.S. Department of Education negotiated rulemaking in 2021-2022.
  • Webinar: Ability to Benefit State Leadership (2020): Learn about three different strategies that state agencies are using to expand Ability to Benefit and make it easier for adults to simultaneously earn their high school and college credentials.