Testimony at Hearing on LD 442, Resolve, To Ensure the Continued Accessibility and Affordability of a High School Equivalency Exam for Maine Residents

On January 1, 2014, after 70 years of being administered by the non-profit American Council on Education, the GED will be turned over to a private company, to be run for profit.

The GED exam was developed in 1942 by the nonprofit American Council on Education for veterans returning from World War II who wanted to go to college. It is the most widely recognized alternative to a high school diploma. In 2011, nearly three-quarters of a million people worldwide took the GED test. Nationally, GEDs now comprise one in every seven high school diplomas. One in every 20 college entrants gains entry from a GED.

The GED is particularly important to enhance the education levels of low-skill, low-income, working adults so they can compete for the higher-paying jobs that will lift them out of poverty.

According to the Working Poor Families Project, a national, privately-funded initiative, which works to improve the economic conditions of low-income, working adults, nearly one in three working families now earns wages so low that they have difficulty surviving financially. In addition their data show that 63,000 people in Maine do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent (almost 8% of our population).

The hard fact is that the vast majority of jobs that pay wages sufficient to support a family require not only a high school diploma, but at least some education beyond that, and low educational attainment is associated with high rates of unemployment and poverty.

Mainers without a diploma are mostly in low-paying jobs. In Portland, a single parent supporting one child and earning minimum wage needs to work 108 hours per week to meet her family’s simplest needs.

Conversely, Mainers earning a credential (with just one year of a college) can pull themselves out of poverty, earning as much as $8,500 per year more than an adult with a high school diploma. An individual with a bachelor’s degree earns on average $20,000 per year more than workers with a high school diploma or GED.

Clearly for our hardest working families to have the same economic opportunities as the rest of us, Maine needs to do everything it can to support their educational attainment. And the starting point is the high school diploma, which is necessary for entry into any kind of post-secondary educational program that will lead to skilled jobs.

Unfortunately, the for-profit venture that will take over the GED next year will make changes creating obstacles, especially for low-income students. Changes that will impact Maine’s low-income GED test takers include:

1. A shift to computerized tests. This is a hurdle to test takers that lack access to and proficiency with computers.

2. A reduction in the number of test centers. This will make it harder for low-income adult students to get to a test center, especially in rural Maine. 

3. More difficult test content, especially in math. Not everything about the new GED test is bad. The private company will revamp the tests to include educational skills needed for today’s labor market and to add a “college readiness” component. But the State will need to overhaul GED prep courses to include not only computer literacy and keyboarding for those without these skills, but also extensive critical thinking and problem-solving for the college readiness assessment.

4. Lack of grandfathering for tests already taken. Any student who has not taken and passed all five of the required tests to earn a GED as of January 1, 2014, will have to start over. It will be hugely discouraging for test takers to have to repeat tests that they have already passed. 

5. And of greatest concern, increased test costs. These include costs to the examinee for prep courses, tests, and diplomas and transcripts, and costs to the State for new material for preparation and instructional service delivery. What’s more, the new, for-profit company, with a monopolistic status over the GED test, is able to increase costs over time unchecked.

Maine currently offers GED preparation and tests at no cost. This is the single greatest factor in ensuring that those that most need the GED can access it. MECEP feels very strongly that in order to enhance the earning potential of our working families and lift them out of poverty, we must continue to offer the free GED. We support this resolve’s goal of ensuring the continued availability of a high school equivalency examination at no cost to test takers.
Lastly, I offer MECEP’s assistance. Through our participation in the Working Poor Families Project, we have colleagues in other states that have studied this issue and identified cost-effective alternatives to the GED. We can share that expertise with you and with Maine’s adult educational officials. We are willing, ready, and able to assist in any way that we can.

Thank you for your time. I am happy to answer any questions.

Jody Harris, MECEP Policy Analyst, testifying before the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs in support of LD 442.