Adult educators also worry about the increased cost of the new GED test. In Illinois the price has jumped from $50 to $120, in North Carolina from $35 to $130, and in Massachusetts from $65 to $120. Turner calls the $120 price tag “rock-bottom pricing.” He says states will actually save money because until now local testing centers have had to pay separately for scheduling, proctoring, and scoring the test. All of that will be included in the new price. He says that states or private employers can always subsidize the test if they choose to.
But Pat Fina, an adult educator in Massachusetts, says the $55 increase is “serious money” for her students, many of whom are unemployed or struggling to get by on minimum-wage jobs. Rosemary Lischka, the director of continuing education and community services at Kansas City Community College in Kansas, says the increased costs will be “insurmountable” for her students. “Many of our students buy enough gas to get where they’re going on a given day and then they buy it again when they have to go somewhere else.”
With all the new obstacles—the tougher standards, the computer requirement and the higher price—some states, including New York, Maine, and Montana, have decided to abandon the GED test entirely, no longer offering it as an alternative to a high school diploma. The companies CTB/McGraw Hill and Educational Testing Service are offering less expensive and paper based alternatives to the GED test. Sonya Thomas, executive director of adult education and literacy for Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri, says her state has decided to dump the GED test and adopt the new ETS equivalency exam. She says students will get two free chances to retest. “That’s very attractive for us. Knowing they don’t have to be concerned with getting additional money together to start the whole process again if they don’t pass is very important,” she says.
Valarie Ashley, the executive director of Southeast Ministries in Washington, D.C., says when she was 10 years old, her mother got a GED certificate. She says it didn’t take long to see the results. Her mother got a job and then a quick promotion from receptionist to office manager. “We would go to McDonald's on payday," says Ashley, "and we'd eat burgers and fries. Not only did things change in our life in terms of money, but she also started to advocate for us in school. I think it's because she felt empowered having that credential.”
Now Ashley helps others, including Kiana Rucker, get their GED certificates, and like thousands of other adult educators, she is scrambling to deal with the changes coming next year. They need to hire professional teachers instead of using volunteers, buy more computers, fundraise for IT maintenance, and find some way to pay for the increased cost of the test. In the low-budget world of adult education, this is a huge problem. “It absolutely frightens me,” says Ashley. “Will I even be able to maintain a program? I’m not trying to be like Chicken Little, but there are so many things that are unknown and unanswered. And they all have a dollar sign attached.”
This story was produced with support from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.