Amelia Herring

Reinstatement of ATB testing: What you need to know

Reinstatement of ATB testing: What you need to know
Amelia Herring
ATB testing is better than it used to be, especially for adults without a high school diploma seeking higher education.

A brief history of ATB testing:

In the past, students who lacked a high school credential (a high school diploma; the recognized equivalent of a high school diploma, such as a general educational development or GED certificate; or completed homeschooling at the secondary level as defined by state law) could prove their ability to benefit from a college education, and be granted access to Title IV funds such as Pell Grants, by passing a general skills test before enrolling. Students could also qualify for funding by first completing six credits of college-level courses.

The new version of the Ability to Benefit (ATB) provision restores Pell Grant eligibility for adult students who lack a high school credential, but with additional stipulations for institutions/programs interested in admitting these students.

Title IV eligibility through ATB provisions is now limited to students who are enrolled in Career Pathways programs, which are programs that integrate adult basic education with college-level coursework, lead to an industry-recognized credential, and can be the first step toward an academic certificate or degree. These programs also have to be aligned with local labor markets and provide support services to help students.

Why is ATB back in this new form?

Two main reasons:

  1. Research shows that adults who lack a high school credential are more likely to earn a college credential in a program that integrates the delivery of secondary and postsecondary skills versus a program where they are required to earn a high school credential before enrolling in a postsecondary program. When ATB test funds were cut, it quickly became evident that this change was creating additional obstacles for people to acquire valuable postsecondary education and skills.
  2. Congress is taking action to ensure the Higher Education Act fulfills its purpose of increasing access to higher education.  There is significant and growing evidence of the effectiveness and rigor of Career Pathways programs (sometimes known as “integrated education and training programs”).

“How can my program become a career pathway?”

Eligible Career Pathways programs consist of an adult education component and a Title IV eligible postsecondary program component. The adult education component includes instruction below the postsecondary level, and therefore, costs for this part of the program cannot be included in the cost of attendance covered by Title IV funds.

The Department of Education has also made numerous resources and forums available to educators interested in learning more about how to meet Career Pathways eligibility:


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