Diplomas, GEDs have a real payoff

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It has been a little more than a decade since the General Assembly revamped the state’s adult-education programs, a high point in the Legislature’s ongoing efforts to improve the classroom from preschool to the workplace.

While a lot of work remains, the past decade has been exactly what we had hoped. In fact, from 2005 to 2009, adult-education enrollment grew by 30 percent – faster than any other state over the same period. There are now about 40,000 citizens in Kentucky who are helped academically each year.

One of the key programs offered by adult education is the GED. Since 2000, nearly 106,000 Kentuckians have received this diploma, which was 13th best nationally when measuring that as a percentage of the eligible population.

Just as the numbers of GED students are increasing, more are passing the test as well. The passing rate was about 70 percent in 2000 but now hovers around 80 percent. Of those taking the test, more than half are 18-34 years old; a third are 35-64 years old.

The hope is that we can get even more Kentuckians to join them this decade. It’s estimated there are still about 786,000 adults in the Commonwealth without a high school diploma or a GED, and more than a half-million of those are 64 or younger.

Not only can those who return for their GED take pride in their accomplishment; they are also in line to see their income jump significantly, too. A 2007 report by the U.S. Census Bureau said the salary difference between those without a high school diploma and those who have one or its equivalency is $8,700 a year.

For the 9,357 Kentuckians who earned their GED in 2010, that’s a potential $2.4 billion bump in pay over a 30-year career. If we can get the number of graduates up to 15,000 annually – the goal adult-education officials have set for 2020 – this number would rise by well over another $1 billion.

Not surprisingly, salaries increase even more for those who move on to college. About 20 percent of GED graduates do just that, with all but a handful staying relatively close to home at a school i the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Just as we want more citizens to take the GED, we also need more to go on to college. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says most jobs now require at least some postsecondary training, and by 2013, 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs will require it.

The easiest way to boost our college-bound numbers, of course, is to do all we can to lower the number of high school dropouts to begin with. It’s something the Kentucky House has tried to accomplish several times over the last couple of years, by proposing to increase the dropout age from 16 to 18.

The need to do that became clear earlier this month, when education officials released a revised dropout figure designed to make comparisons with other states easier.

For the Class of 2010, the latest year statistics are available, the graduation rate was 76 percent. In other words, one-fourth of the students in that class started high school but did not finish. If there is a silver lining, it’s that the 2010 rate was better than the two previous years that had been, re-calculated under the new formula.

Another way we’re getting more people into postsecondary school is Project Graduate. This was started several years ago by our public four-year universities. It is designed to attract those Kentuckians who earned at least 90 credit hours but had to leave college before earning a diploma.

The latest statistics show that almost 500 students who re-enrolled through Project Graduate have completed that journey. Last fall and this past spring, hundreds of others were set to follow in their footsteps.

If getting a GED or college diploma is something you would like to see in your future, there are a couple of places where you can start.

First, every county has an adult-education program; these are a great resource. The state provides help online, too. Kentucky Adult Education’s website is www.kyae.ky.gov, while www.knowhow2goky.org can also help with adult education as well as Project Graduate. Just click on “Adult” when you go there to find the latest information and available options.


Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181.