GED offers second chance at high school diploma

Is the lack of a high school diploma holding you back? If so, you have a second chance to get the education you need — thanks to the national General Educational Diploma program.

“There are 1.3 million Georgians who don’t have a high school diploma, and without a doubt they need one to find a job or hold one in today’s job market,” said Jackie Echols, dean of adult education at Georgia Piedmont Technical College. “Jobs are more technological and complex. They just require more education.”

Research shows that having a better education pays off in more opportunities, better jobs and higher pay. People who hold a GED diploma will earn an average of $7,658 more annually than non-high school graduates, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“When people get a GED, it changes things,” Echols said. “They can enter college and earn degrees in their chosen fields. They can find a better job or progress in their current job/ They can enlist in the military. A GED opens a lot of doors that were closed to them before.”

In Georgia, the Technical College System of Georgia co-administers the program with the GED Testing Service. Testing centers are located throughout the state, and test-preparation classes are free.

Georgia Piedmont Technical College in DeKalb County has the largest GED program in the state with 5,464 students enrolled during the last fiscal year.

“Our students are aged 16 to 65. We offer some classes online, but 99 percent of our students come to the classroom. They find that being able to work with peers and ask questions of instructors is a more effective learning environment,” Echols said.

To earn a GED, students must pass written exams in five subjects: math, reading/language arts, social studies, science and writing.

“If there is one myth I could dispel it is that getting a GED is easier than earning a high school diploma. It is not,” Echols said. “People have no idea how difficult it is for many of our students. Most high school students only have to go to school. Our students must fit their education into very crowded lives that include jobs, families and other obligations.”

How long it takes students to become test-ready depends on the level of education at which they enter the program, their commitment and whether they take full advantage of the services that are available. The Adult Learning Center at Georgia Piedmont Tech offers computer labs where students can practice skills and get help from volunteer tutors.

“While the classes are free, the cost for the five tests is $160. There are many resources to help students with the cost, however,” Echols said. “And GED graduates may be eligible for a $500 HOPE GED grant to use toward postsecondary education in Georgia.”

Many students across the state find help through Certified Literate Community Programs, which are community-based partnerships between business, education and government that provide the resources and funding necessary to increase literacy. The DeKalb County CLCP believes that all citizens, immigrants and refugees deserve an opportunity to be able to speak, read and write in English and advance their level of education. These programs assist students with learning English, tutoring, scholarships and books. Some address transportation and child care issues that can be barriers to getting an education.

“Not everyone succeeds, but out of the 822 people who were at test-ready level this year, 438 attempted all five tests and 80 percent passed,” Echols said. “We hold ceremonies for those graduates and the room is full of graduates and their families. It’s so rewarding to see the pride on their faces.”

Echols is encouraging her students who are test-ready to take the exams by Dec. 31.

“As of January 2014, the current version of the GED test is expiring and everyone will have to take the new test online. Those who have previously passed some of the tests will have to start over,” she said.

You aren’t required to enroll in preparation classes to take the GED tests. You must register, but walk-ins are welcome.

“Future students will have to learn differently and we are changing our curriculum,” Echols said. “The new tests are more complex and require more comprehension and critical thinking.”