December Spending Agreement Affects Ability-to-Benefit Determinations

By Joan Berkes, Policy and Federal Relations Staff

The Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2016 (P.L. 114-113), signed into law by President Obama in December, set funding levels for all federal programs and also included some important policy changes.

Most of the changes simply extended existing funding-related provisions, but one in particular made changes to the career pathways alternative for demonstrating ability-to-benefit for students without a high school diploma or its equivalent. It also eliminates the separate reduced Pell Grant schedule for these students. The effective date of these changes is unclear, however, pending Department of Education (ED) guidance.

The old law, which is explained in Dear Colleague Letter GEN-15-09, differs from the definition of career pathways for workforce training purposes. The definition in the new law aligns the Higher Education Act definition of career pathways with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act definition (P.L. 113-128, enacted 7/22/14).

A comparison of components of the old and new definitions of a career pathways program is roughly as follows.

Old: Concurrently enrolls participants in connected adult education and eligible postsecondary programs.
New: Includes, as appropriate, education offered concurrently with and in the same context as workforce preparation activities and training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster.

Old: Provides counseling and supportive services to identify and attain academic and career goals.
New: Includes counseling to support an individual in achieving the individual’s education and career goals.

Old: Provides structured course sequences that are articulated and contextualized, and that allow students to advance to higher levels of education and employment.
New: Enables an individual to attain a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent, and at least one recognized postsecondary credential; and helps an individual enter or advance within a specific occupation or occupational cluster.

Old: Provides opportunities for acceleration to attain recognized postsecondary credentials, including degrees, industry relevant certifications, and certificates of completion of apprenticeship programs.
New: Organizes education, training, and other services to meet the particular needs of an individual in a manner that accelerates the educational and career advancement of the individual to the extent practicable; and prepares an individual to be successful in any of a full range of secondary or postsecondary education options, including apprenticeships registered under the Act of August 16, 1937 (commonly known as the ‘National Apprenticeship Act’; 50 Stat. 664, chapter 663; 29 U.S.C. 50 et seq.) (referred to individually in this Act as an ‘apprenticeship’, except in section 171).

Old: Is aligned with the education and skill needs of the regional economy.
New: Aligns with the skill needs of industries in the economy of the state or regional economy involved.

Old: Is organized to meet the needs of adults; and has been developed and implemented in collaboration with partners in business, workforce development, and economic development.
Guidance from ED is needed to determine whether Pell Grant amounts for students who are Title IV-eligible through the career pathways alternative will change for 2015-16, or not until 2016-17. Likewise, ED guidance is needed to know the impact, if any, of the new definition of career pathways program for 2015-16.


Publication Date: 1/28/2016

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