“I wish more institutions knew about this option for adult learners.  Ability To Benefit (ATB) is PELL approved funds for adult learners CURRENTLY obtaining their GED/HSE. Most GED/HSE students meet financial aid requirements (low income, SNAP, UI, homeless, veterans, the list goes on) and are eligible for full grant funds if they attend full time. The college gets enrollment, and the student gets the opportunity to achieve dual certification and graduate to a job.   College enrollment is always a struggle, especially with low unemployment levels, so why not tap into the students that want to be there?!!!!!! Then those students are also eligible for WIOA funds. If schools partnered with their Adult Education programs in the area AND had a working relationship with their Local Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) to send students for WIOA funds, BOOM, college tuition, books, fees, tools, equipment, gas, daycare, etc…. PAID FOR! Get rid of the obstacles and see how quickly a GED/HSE student soars!” Brandy Logan, Programs Specialist Workforce Development Technical College System of Georgia – Adult Education

Free ATB Flyer
  • Are you one of the 70% of community colleges that are concerned about hitting enrollment targets?
  • What is your plan to increase diversity and equity within your college campus when our most vulnerable populations are so negatively impacted by COVID-19?
  • How will your college leverage Ability to Benefit (ATB) to recruit and retain students in the fluid pandemic environment?
WHAT: Our virtual symposium is an opportunity to hear from experts about how ATB can move your college’s stagnant enrollment needle and support low income students and those without a high school diploma or its equivalent in accessing critical financial aid to persist and complete a postsecondary education. From the nuts and bolts of ATB to successful marketing and execution, learn how to boost enrollment and retention.
WHY: The need to engage our most vulnerable populations has never been greater given the pandemic. The latest trends demonstrate issues colleges face in achieving their vision for diversity, inclusion, and equity.
This National Student Clearinghouse Research project demonstrates that in the last three years, more African Americans and Hispanics took leaves of absence from school, especially this year in March and April when the pandemic hit.
Additionally, there is a drop in Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applications by lower income students. Some 100,000 fewer high school seniors completed financial aid applications to attend college this year, according to a National College Attainment Network analysis of FAFSA data through August 2020.
Students from families with incomes under $75,000 are nearly twice as likely to say they “canceled all plans” to take classes this fall as students from families with incomes over $100,000, according to a U.S. Census survey in late August 2020.
WHO: This virtual symposium is designed specifically for community college chancellors, presidents, provosts, financial aid leaders, and registrars.
WHEN: This full day training took place on 11/17 from 9:00 – 4:00 EST. Watch the archived sessions below.


Please email info@coabe.org with any questions.


Schedule of Events

9:00 am – 9:25 am ET

Welcome! (Generously sponsored by Essential Education)
Dr. Don Finn, COABE 
Patricia Tyler, NASDAE
Assistant Secretary Stump, OCTAE


9:30 am – 10:15 am ET

Plenary Joint Session A
Judy Mortrude, World Ed
Aaron Washington, Office of Postsecondary Education
Erin Berg, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Title: Ability to Benefit 101: Federal Student Aid for Students Who Are Not High School Graduates

Description: Refresh your understanding of the Ability to Benefit provisions in Section 484 of the Higher Learning Act of 1965, as amended. Learn how to help adult learners without a high school diploma or equivalent access federal aid to support their career pathway education.  Handouts


10:15 am – 10:30 am ET Break
10:30 am – 11:30 am ET

Plenary Joint Session B
Chancellor Lee Lambert, Pima Community College 

Title: Why ATB: Leadership to Achieve Access, Equity, and Enrollment

Description: Community college leaders, learn how Ability to Benefit can drive your access, equity, and enrollment goals, and why your support is imperative in driving the implementation of ATB at your school.  Handouts


11:30 am – 12:00 pm ET

Lunch Break

Watch Video


Session Options Track #1 Track #2
12:00 pm – 12:45 pm ET

Title: The Power of Partnerships: Aligning With Adult Education to Expand Reach and Opportunity Through ATB

Description:  The presentation will cover how South Texas College and Region One Service Center, our local adult education provider, collaborate to be able to serve students using the ATB model. I will discuss how the partnership was established, including agreements and procedures that were set up, the role of each entity in the partnership, and the challenges that we have had and how we handled them. Handouts

Presented by: Olivia De La Rosa, South Texas College


Title: Cutting Through the Red Tape: Using the ATB State Option for Streamlining Eligibility

Description: Join Terese Craig (Wisconsin) and William Durden (Washington State) as they share their stories, and details of their Dept. of Ed.-approved state plans for the “third” or “state” option for determining Ability to Benefit! Learn how your state can apply to create a new way of determining eligibility as alternatives to testing or paying for the first six credits.  Handouts

Presented by: William Durden, Washington SBCTC

Terese Craig, Wisconsin Technical College System


12:45 pm – 1:00 pm ET


Watch Video

Session Options Track #1 Track #2
1:00 pm – 1:45 pm ET

Title: Shining Stars: A Case Study in Leveraging ATB to Expand Access to Postsecondary Education

Description: When the ATB provision for federal financial aid was reinstated in 2014, PCC moved quickly to set up a system to use ATB to expand access to postsecondary education for our adult learners. Participants in this session will learn the nuts and bolts of how we made ATB happen at our college, from program structure to student supports and financial aid compliance. The session will include time for discussion and Q&A with leaders from both the financial aid and adult education teams at PCC.  Handouts

Presented by: Laurie Kierstead-Joseph, Wendy Scheder Black, and Norma Navarro-Castellanos, Pima Community College


Title: California’s Tale of Braided Funds: Transforming State Dual Enrollment Policies 

Description: This presentation will provide strategies for expanding current state dual enrollment agendas, policies, and funding mechanisms for high school minors to also include ATB-eligible adults. The presenters will discuss their experience as part of a team of authors of the 2019 California legislation (SB 554) that expanded dual enrollment tuition waiver funding to also include adults. They will also present how state and federal financial aid mechanisms can mutually support ATB-eligible students and how formally expanding the definition of dual enrollment opens grant-generated funding opportunities as well.  Handouts

Presented by: Matt Morin, and Laura Alvarado, Chaffey College


1:45 pm – 2:00 pm ET Break
Session Options Track #1 Track #2
2:00 pm – 2:45 pm ET

Title: Using ATB to Recruit Students During COVID-19

Description: Historically, enrollment in training and education has increased during times of recession. But since April, an estimated 28M Americans have canceled their enrollment plans due to COVID-19. If you are one of the 70% of community colleges reporting concerns about student enrollments, then join us to discover why a new recruitment lens is required during the pandemic using virtual strategies that attract vulnerable populations. Participants learn a formula to create highly effective marketing messages through “personas” that engage target audiences through online mediums using ATB as a powerful recruitment tool.  Handouts

Presented by: Celina Shands, Full Capacity Marketing

Sharon Bonney, COABE


Title: Connecting the Dots for Students – A Case Study in Using ATB for Guided Pathways

Description: There are facets to connecting adult education students to ATB in a community college.  Join in on this session to hear about Alamo Colleges District’s journey in establishing collaborative partnerships to include students from adult education literacy (AEL) programs. Learn about the program design and implementation plan for strategic enrollment of AEL students into Alamo College District’s guided pathways utilizing ATB.  Hear about their continued efforts to finalize working procedures for implementation of their Guided Pathways and Ability to Benefit throughout all five colleges within the Alamo Colleges District.  Handouts

Presented by: Mary Helen Martinez, EdD, and Angela Guadian-Mendez, Alamo Colleges District


2:45 pm – 3:00 pm ET Break
Session Options Plenary Joint Session C
3:00 pm – 3:45 pm ET

Title: Getting to Yes: Empowering Financial Aid Directors with Ability to Benefit

Description: Financial Aid Directors will discuss how they are making Ability to Benefit work for their colleges in Mississippi. Learn how they have eliminated financial aid barriers and what processes they have put in place to support career pathways and student success.  Handouts    

Presented by: Nikitna Barnes, Taneshia Turner, Lekeisha Murray-Hibbler, and Louanne W. Langston, Mississippi Community College Board


3:45 pm – 4:00pm ET

Closing Remarks: Co-Chairs Regina Suitt and Sharon Bonney


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