LoHud.com: Community View: Adults without diplomas should still go to college

By President Judith Huntington
June 11, 2012

The ability of economically disadvantaged students who don’t have a high school diploma or GED to pursue a college education is about to become more difficult, thanks to a new law enacted by Congress.

Currently, these students can receive federal grants and loans by taking a federally approved basic skills test to prove their “ability to benefit” from a college education. But getting to college by way of the “ability to benefit” or ATB program will come to an end as of July 1. Any students enrolled after that date will be required to have a high school diploma or GED in order to receive federal financial aid.

The new law was part of an appropriations bill passed in December that cut funding and tightened eligibility levels for Pell Grants and Direct Stafford Loans, major sources of federal aid for higher education.

Who are these ATB students? They are usually low-income adults, many of whom have been out of school for 10 years or more.

In some instances, they have not completed high school because they needed to take care of family members or work to provide basic support for their families.

They are also people who have graduated from a high school outside of the U.S. and their diplomas are not recognized in this country.

Earning a college degree can be one of life’s most important achievements. From a financial standpoint, the difference in annual earnings between a college graduate and someone who has only a high school degree is astounding.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the average annual salary of someone with a bachelor’s degree is $51,206, versus $27,915 a year for a high school graduate. Over the course of a lifetime, the difference in earnings could exceed $1 million!

Critical thinking skills
Having a highly educated population is also critical to America’s ability to compete in a global economy where critical thinking skills play an increasingly important role.

Providing higher education to those in our society who would otherwise not have access to a college education is a founding principle of The College of New Rochelle.

The College of New Rochelle was offering women access to higher education 20 years before women had the right to vote.

In the 1960s, we began offering programs for adult women and men who had interrupted their earlier education to raise their families. This model was expanded with the establishment of the School of New Resources that was designed to educate adult students, both women and men, at our main campus in New Rochelle and through a network of five community-based campuses in New York City. Within that adult population were women and men who had not been able to complete high school, often because of financial obstacles, family responsibilities or health-related issues.

Since the founding of our School of New Resources some 40 years ago, The College of New Rochelle has remained steadfast in addressing the educational needs of the economically disadvantaged. Yet this has become increasingly more difficult as public policy has moved toward seeking short-term budget resolutions at the expense of funding education for those students who would benefit most from higher education.

Nevertheless, we have steadily pursued our mission as a Catholic college that believes in the dignity and worth of each individual by providing at no cost skills-building courses to help adults resume their education.

We have never viewed this as a “gift,” but rather a commitment to providing access to historically bypassed populations who have the ability to successfully pursue higher education.