Kentucky: Council on Postsecondary Education

The Real Value of a GED: A guest editorial by Dr. Cheryl King, Vice-President Kentucky Adult Education for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Release Date: September 27, 2004
Contact: Sue Patrick
Phone: (502) 573-1555, ext. 308

Over the past few weeks, a great deal of public conversation has focused on the GED as state policymakers have discussed how to stem the high school drop-out rate. A key point that has not been fully addressed is the significant value of the GED to individual Kentuckians who have already dropped out of the educational system. Another aspect that has not been fully examined is the GED's value to the Commonwealth's economic and workforce development efforts.

The 2003 Current Population Survey reports that nearly one in five Kentuckians over age 25 do not have a high school diploma or GED, ranking Kentucky 39th in the nation. Local and state chambers of commerce and economic development specialists have their work cut out for them when, according to the 2000 census, 67 counties report at least 30 percent of the adult population without a high school diploma. But the problem reaches beyond the state's ability to attract and retain business and industry.

More than 80 percent of the people taking the GED test last year reported incomes below $10,000 and about half were unemployed, reflecting the stark realities of low education attainment. Can we afford to leave behind a significant number of Kentucky's working-age adults to fend for low-wage, low-skilled jobs at a time when employers demand skills acquired only through some postsecondary education? Can we expect people to compete for jobs in the new economy when they weren't prepared for the old one? Kentucky cannot prosper unless more adults earn a GED.

Effects of low educational attainment ripple from adults to their children. When adults struggle economically and educationally, their children struggle as well. The literacy of the parent is directly correlated to the child's success in school. The parent is the child's first teacher. What happens when Mom and Dad can't read? Kentucky's efforts to reform P-12 education will not succeed unless there's a parallel effort to improve the education status of adults.

The good news is more Kentuckians are taking action to advance their education. Between 1999 and 2003, 62,680 Kentuckians earned their GED. The 7.5-hour test consists of multiple choice and essay sections based on the knowledge of high school seniors. Thirty-seven percent of those passing the GED in 2003 scored at a level comparable to the top 25 percent of a high school graduating class.

The GED does not guarantee success in college, but neither does a high school diploma. More than 50 percent of Kentucky's college freshmen in 2002 had to take at least one developmental course upon enrollment. To more adequately prepare adult students, Kentucky Adult Education is aligning its curriculum and assessments to rigorous postsecondary and workforce standards through the state P-16 Council and Education Trust.

Almost half of the people taking the GED aspire to go on to college, but in the past, very few actually enrolled. But things are changing. Kentucky Adult Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education are waging an all-out effort to move more GED completers to college. The GED college-going rate has steadily increased from 12 percent in 1999 to 22 percent in 2003, the latest year for which data are available. It's time to applaud GED graduates, rather than demean the national credential that is the gateway to continued education and employment.

All people, young and old, need a sense of achievement and hope for the future. The GED is not an education finale but a prelude to postsecondary education and employment, which lead to a better quality of life and a higher standard of living. That's the real value of a GED.


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Last Updated 8/3/2005