But, will this radically increase GED awards?
And, is a GED really beneficial?
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear recently announced a new program that will pay for testing for first-time takers of the GED. The GED test battery to be financed includes four subjects and the cost to take each subject test is normally $30. Thus, the state now will cover a total cost of $120, which certainly isn’t inconsequential for people who don’t have a diploma.
But, how much benefit will Kentuckians get from this approximately $600,000 investment?
To begin, as reported by The Atlantic in 2013, the GED is no longer a relatively easy test. In reaction to relatively low success rates for GED recipients who went on to postsecondary education, the test program was notably tightened up in 2014. The tests also became computer-only, thus requiring some technical skills not needed on the old GED tests, as well.
In consequence, most of the estimated 335,000 non-high school graduates living in Kentucky might need to spend a fair amount of time in GED preparation classes before they would be ready to take the actual GED test. The good news here is that there are a number of free GED class offerings around the state, including both classroom style and online courses. However, transportation to the classroom courses could be an expense issue while taking the courses online obviously requires access to a web-enabled computing device.
And, to repeat, at least the math test in the new GED is harder and now in some ways even more demanding than the new standards for earning a regular high school diploma in Kentucky. The GED is now based on the Common Core State Standards and those standards expect math ability through at least some areas of Algebra II (See Page 8 in the math appendix A to the Common Core).
In contrast, Kentucky’s new public school standards for a diploma only require math through Algebra I. Additional math courses, such as in statistics, that could qualify to get a diploma might not be as demanding.
So, getting a GED today isn’t a cakewalk. For most who need it, the GED now requires more preparation than potential GED takers likely received before leaving high school.
Even with a GED, are people that much better off?
I think there is no question that holding a GED is better than not holding any education credential, but the facts to date are that the GED, absent still more education, hasn’t been a really great road to success, either.
Employers are increasingly savvy that a GED isn’t the same as a high school diploma. For one well-documented example, the US Army is a major employer of non-college adults. But, it is reported that a GED doesn’t make one terribly competitive to earn a slot in this branch of the military. According to one source, “the Army only allows a tiny fraction of its total enlistments each year to have a GED.”
To be sure, you can’t get in the Army at all these days without at least a GED. An old Army program that helped certain disadvantaged youth to get a GED after enlistment ended in 2013. But even for those holding a GED document but no additional education, the entry opportunity is slim.
The current success rate for those taking GED preparation classes is also fairly concerning. The Kentucky Stats folks have some data online regarding the total number of Kentuckians enrolled in GED courses over the past few years versus the number of those enrollees who actually earned a GED. The data in the table below is taken from the KYSTATS Skills U Feedback Report’s Outcomes tab and shows a summation of the results from years 2014 to 2016 for the 10 Local Workforce Areas (LWA) in Kentucky.
During this three-year period, a total of 28,440 people enrolled in GED prep courses, but only a total of 6,216 GEDs were actually earned in this period, a ratio of just 22%.
As seen in the table, the success rate of GED classes varies notably across the 10 different Local Workforce Areas, which are shown in the figure below.
GED completion rates range from just 14% in the Kentuckiana Works LWA to 32% in both the Lincoln Trail and Tenco LWAs, which could indicate a fair amount of variation in preparation class quality across the state, though other factors might also be at play.
I would like to be able to show you statistics on how GED recipients going on to postsecondary education have performed, but the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education hasn’t gotten back to me about that. In any event, the new, 2014 GED test has not been around long enough to produce a large amount of this data, in any event.
Still, with an estimated 335,000 non-high school graduates living in Kentucky, if we on average only dig into that number at a rate of about 6,216 GED awards every three years, it is going to take a VERY, VERY long time to take an appreciable bite out of Kentucky’s large number of non-high school graduates.
So, it will be interesting to see if the governor’s new program really produces given the hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who were underserved by the state’s school system in years gone by.
Tech Note: Data for the table and the graphic in this blog came from: https://kystats.ky.gov/Reports/Tableau/KSUFR_INT_2019.