States drop GED: Without affordable alternative, vulnerable students will lose lifeline

The GED is a necessary fall-back for many students who find themselves slipping in a high school setting, or for parents who never graduated and want to better their family's livelihood. But a price hike and format change to the GED puts that at risk.

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press
General Education Development Testing Service announced a price hike in it's product, the GED, leading some states to search out other options for next year. Here, Deni Loving teaches a GED class in Kansas City, Mo., April 11.

By doubling the price of the GED (General Education Development) test to $120 and reducing access by making the test and preparation course electronic-only come January, those whose only route to higher education and better job options begins with the test as the first step will be knocked off the road to success. In the field of career development a powerful tool for building success has always been a GED, which makes this issue one that will deeply affect families.

This is an issue that affects parents in two ways. In some cases the parent needs a GED in order to provide a better life for their child, while in others a parent may need this option for a child who struggled in school due to social or physical issues and are too far behind to catch up. The GED system picks up the stragglers, but the ticket to ride may not be affordable now.

Currently about 40 states are seeking an alternative to the GED Testing Service’s high school equivalency test “because of concerns that a new version coming out next year is more costly and will no longer be offered in a pencil and paper format,” according to The Christian Science Monitor

The Associated Press reports the new version will be the first revamp since for-profit Pearson Vue Testing acquired a joint ownership interest in the nonprofit Washington-based GED Testing Service. The cost of the test is doubling to $120, according to the report.

“When you are asking people who don’t have any money to spend twice as much to get a start, how can that be good?” said Warren Stewart of the Norfolk School Board. Stewart also served as the state’s first Dropout Prevention Coordinator in 1989. He is currently retired and is a member of the school board in Norfolk, Va. He was reached for interview by phone at the National Association of School Boards Convention in San Diego

Stewart added, “How important is the GED to education? It’s huge to people who need a starting point. It always has been and is so now, perhaps more than any other time in history.”

The General Educational Development tests are a group of five subject tests which, when passed, certify that the taker has American or Canadian high school-level academic skills. Passing the GED test gives those who did not complete high school the opportunity to earn their high school equivalency credential.

The test, now available in both paper-and-pencil and online format, is now going exclusively online, which moved Stewart to ask the big question — “Are we making that route to education and success more difficult by limiting the access to the GED test in this way with it only being accessible via computers?”

I received a GED myself and went on to get an associate degree from a community college and a bachelor’s degree in political science from a university. While I was an excellent student, my parents were divorced, and in lieu of child support my mom received part of my father’s Social Security check. When Ronald Reagan took office he passed a bill phasing that practice out. If you wanted to keep the support for a further three years you had to be either age 18 or enrolled in college by May 1st of that year. I was entering my junior year of high school and we needed the money, so I had to drop out, wait six weeks, and take the GED and enter a special intercession created by Brookdale Community College in Lyncroft, N.J., in order to qualify. I did it. In fact I took my GED, SAT, and driver’s test in the same week, and passed them all. I had both a future and a way to fund it as well.

There are a million stories behind those who have taken the first step of that million mile journey from the square on life’s game board marked “GED.”

Stewart harkens back to his favorite GED hero, “Here in Norfolk, Va., we know about a poor boy, a tough boy, from Oceanview area, Sherman Williford, who got his GED while serving in the military and rose to four-star general after he famously took command of Delta Force from 1983 to 1985.”

The GED is critical to creating what our school system here in Virginia calls “successful community contributors.” These contributors are people who have the basic tools with which to build a better life and become an asset to the community.

When I worked as a Career Developer for the State of Virginia for 18 months I met many people who, for whatever reason or hardship, failed to achieve during their high school years. The ability, affordability, and access to a GED make it a powerful tool for building communities. 

A community builder and school board member here in Norfolk is Rodney Jordan who is also the head of the Park Place Civic League, an urban area trying to uplift itself via it’s own bootstraps and the GED is one of those bootstraps.

“We will see cases, we have a committee that assesses readmitting a student to school after suspension or in other situation, where a student is 19 and in the ninth grade,” Jordan said. “I look at that kind of situation and my suggestion is to keep them in the school, but on a GED track so they have a better chance of graduation. It’s a workforce development issue just as much as an education issue.”

Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a child or grandchild who will never need to worry about the need for a GED in life.

However, we live and work in communities that can rise higher and be better with more educated citizens who can better provide for their families if they hold a GED. This test is everybody’s baby and we need to keep an eye on it and how it’s being handled.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.