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Taking Big Steps to Bring GED Students Back to Class

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Photo left: Producing new cable-TV ads, featuring real GED students, is just one strategy EASTCONN is using to boost GED enrollment.

A precipitous decline in GED adult student enrollment across Connecticut – and nationwide – appears to be reversing, as GED numbers begin slowly moving upward in what educators hope is a long-term trend. 

Communications and information campaigns that are being used to bring students back to the GED classroom in Connecticut seem to be working, although not quickly.

The national GED exam, which adult students can take to earn a high school diploma, was once offered exclusively as a paper-and-pencil test. But it was revamped in January 2014, shifting to a new, computer-based, online-only format, featuring content aligned with the Common Core, which many said made the test more rigorous. 

“Almost immediately in 2014, GED enrollment, not only at EASTCONN but across the country, dropped off,” said Richard Tariff, EASTCONN’s Director of Adult Programs. Tariff is also president of the Connecticut Association for Adult and Continuing Education (CAACE), the statewide adult education advocacy group. 

Teachers reported that for many prospective GED students, the idea of taking a computer-based test and meeting the demands of an updated curriculum were too daunting. 

In eastern Connecticut, the decline in numbers and anecdotal surveys of adult students supported that conclusion. 

 “For example, between 2011 and the end of 2013, we had an average of 113 adults per year earn their GED through EASTCONN,” Tariff said. “In 2014-2015, only 12 students earned their GED through EASTCONN. That’s a huge drop. But things are starting to improve. In 2015-2016, EASTCONN will award GED diplomas to 40 adults, so we’re optimistic that those numbers will continue to grow.” [EASTCONN also offers other pathways to a high school diploma that are not connected to the GED test.]

Different regions of the state report similar experiences.        

Lawrence Covino, Director of Bristol Adult Education, said that a significant drop in Bristol’s GED graduates following implementation of the new GED test. “We went from 79 graduates in 2013-14 to 22 in 2014-2015,” Covino said, adding, “But we are up to 29 in 2015-2016.” 

The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) reported that from January 1 through April 30, 2014, statewide, there were only 241 GED test-takers, with a pass rate of 40%. In 2015, during that same period, CSDE reported that the number of test-takers had jumped to 528, with a pass rate of 54%, a marked improvement. Earlier this year, the GED Testing Services, which oversees the GED test, announced that the passing score for the GED exam would be lowered, also improving test-takers’ ability to earn their diplomas.  

Nationwide, in 2013, about 800,000 adults took the GED test and nearly 560,000 passed. But in 2014, 248,000 people nationally took the GED test, and just 86,000 passed, according to data from GED Testing Services. [Note: More recent data was not available at press time.] 

“We still have a ways to go,” said EASTCONN Assistant Director of Adult Programs Kristin Hempel. “But we feel that our information campaigns in the EASTCONN region are having a positive impact.” 

Other good news? Enrollment in EASTCONN’s Spanish GED seems to be holding steady. Nevertheless, GED information campaigns will continue to be aimed at the EASTCONN region’s English speakers and Spanish-language adults, Hempel said. 

EASTCONN joins other Connecticut Adult Education programs that are using a variety of information campaign strategies.

EASTCONN’s efforts include: cable-TV ads; revamped Adult Education Web site pages, which are newly translated into Spanish; GED TV ads at Windham DMV’s waiting-room; social media campaigns; direct mail and Internet outreach to former and current students; newspaper ads; referral-incentive initiatives; in-person outreach at schools and community events; bilingual materials distribution regionally; and the addition of a bilingual adult education outreach specialist who will connect with Windham’s Spanish-language community. 

But will GED numbers ever rebound completely?

“I don’t think the number of GED students will increase to their pre-2014 levels,” predicted Bristol’s Covino. 

“Also, the improving economy tends to pull people away from school and into the workforce. I think [Adult Education’s] focus on workforce and employability will help draw more people into our programs. It’s no longer just about the high school degree, it’s now about the whole person … .”

Learn more about EASTCONN’s GED program from Kristin Hempel at khempel@eastconn.org, or 860-423-2591.


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