(Note: this is a revised version of an earlier post)

The Problem

About 10% of Americans are chronically poor or near-poor, most of whom lack the skills to move up the economic ladder.  

The Challenge

  1. Alleviate poverty

  2. Incentivize skill development

  3. Increase social mobility at lower-income levels

  4. Increase labor market participation

  5. All without raising taxes very much 

The Proposal

Adult Student Basic Income: $1000/month up to six years total for adults enrolled in postsecondary training and education programs, such as:

  • College Classes

  • Adult Education

  • ESL Classes

  • GED/HS Diploma Programs

  • Job Readiness Training

  • Vocational Training

  • Internet Classes

  • Modular Courses

  • On-The-Job Training

  • Apprenticeships


  • American citizens or eligible non-citizens between 18-62

  • Approved institutions and programs only

  • Minimum 20 hours a week participation

  • Minimum one month participation at a time

  • Periodic performance confirmation

A registry would be compiled from existing regional and state agencies that oversee and accredit or approve postsecondary institutions and programs. Participation would include time allotted for homework, based on information from training and education providers. For instance, a standard college course generally involves about 3 hours of study time for every unit of credit, so taking 7 units of college coursework would be enough to qualify. 

Performance requirements would vary according to the institution, class, or program. As a rule, one would be required to get a passing grade or certificate of participation confirming that at least 20 hours a week of class or training time had been satisfactorily completed during the period of review. Those not meeting performance requirements would have their ASBI suspended until they submitted documentation of having completed the required coursework or training.  


The ASBI would not be means-tested, so recipients could work part- or full-time.  Although the ASBI would replace federal student aid programs, state aid programs would not be affected.  Unlike Pell Grants, the ASBI would not drive up school fees because it would turn students into cost-conscious consumers. It’s their money, so the more they pay for school, the less available for other expenses. The ASBI would also make students think twice before choosing an expensive private school when a cheaper but perfectly adequate public option is available.

Plus, the ASBI would increase the psychological well-being of its recipients, partly by decreasing financial stress and partly by increasing personal agency: the sense of control and competence that comes from achieving goals by one’s own efforts.

Next: How to Pay for the ASBI


Kimberlin, Sara "The Influence of Government Benefits and Taxes on Rates of Chronic and Transient Poverty in the United States," Social Service Review 90, no. 2 (June 2016): 185-234. https://doi.org/10.1086/687306

Rank, Mark R  “From Rags to Riches to Rags” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/opinion/sunday/from-rags-to-riches-to-rags.html?smid=pl-share&_r=3

Smith, Gregory C. et al “The Effects of Interpersonal and Personal Agency on Perceived Control and Psychological Well-Being in Adulthood”The Gerontologist, Volume 40, Issue 4, 1 August 2000, Pages 458–468, https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/40.4.458