I’ve had the amazing opportunity to be a volunteer teacher at Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s Grantee Partner, The Academy of Hope, and can speak to the hard work of the learners who step through their doors each day. This innovative organization provides basic education to adult learners. Though most learners have jobs, families and a myriad of other responsibilities that compete for their time, they still make their studies a priority. In spending time with the learners there, I’ve come to see that the value of a GED or high school equivalency diploma goes beyond the increased job opportunities and higher wages associated with obtaining that level of education (though these are extremely important). Their value is also in the confidence gained by the adults who walk across the stage at graduation, in a mother who is more equipped to help her children with their homework, in that member of society who is more prepared for civic engagement and in immeasurably more ways. In January of 2014, however, the GED is undergoing significant changes that will likely make it considerably more difficult to obtain.
While there are several changes coming to the GED, three of the most significant shifts are the transition from paper-based tests to computerized-only exams, the jump from a $50 testing fee to a fee of $120, and an increase in the test’s difficulty. These changes have been widely debated, and Academy of Hope has been tackling the tough questions around this transition through a series of panels and continuing dialog on this issue. Most recently, they hosted local experts for a panel discussion on July 17th, in partnership with the Moriah Fund and PNC Bank, to discuss the implications of the changing GED for DC adults.
The panel raised several great issues, discussing the challenges and barriers that the changes to the GED could mean for adults looking to pass the test, and balancing these with comments on the need for the GED to remain relevant at a time when many jobs demand higher levels of computer literacy and “soft skills” such as listening, critical reasoning, and inductive reasoning. For me, one of the most relevant comments came from Nicole Smith, a research professor and senior economist at the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. She noted that her research has shown that women need an entire layer of education higher than men to obtain the same salary, meaning that when a woman obtains her GED she would still need at least an associate’s degree or certificate just to earn what a man with a GED alone would be able to earn; women with the same educational attainment as men earn about a quarter less than their male counterparts over a lifetime. For the new GED, with the increase in difficulty, greater need for computer literacy and higher financial burden just to take the test, women will face an even more difficult road to higher education and family sustaining wages.
In a city where, in 2008, 14% of girls did not complete high school, the ramifications for this are serious. The GED test is the most widely recognized alternative to a high school diploma and a gateway to higher education opportunities. The changes to the GED will likely increase the time commitment of adults studying for the test, and will mean a tremendous amount of work for organizations that prepare adults in the Washington area for the GED, as they will need to revamp and adapt their programs to the new standards. At the panel discussion, NPR’s Kavitha Cardoza remarked that with the coming changes in the GED, “this is a really scary time for adult educators and adults in DC.”
As the barriers to higher education for women in the region increase, so, too, do the barriers to better jobs and more opportunities for women and their families to find economic security. This is why The Women’s Foundation funds programs like Academy of Hope and appreciates their commitment to continuing the conversation with great events like this panel!
For more information on what the changes to the GED could mean for area adults, click here for a policy brief courtesy of The Working Poor Families Project.
Photo courtesy of Columbus State Community