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COLUMN: Adult Education has been critical for Kentucky

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By State Rep. Rick Rand

It has been a little more than a decade ago since the General Assembly revamped the state’s adult education programs, a high point in the legislature’s ongoing efforts to improve the classroom from preschool to the workplace.
While a lot of work remains, the past decade has been exactly what we had hoped. In fact, from 2005 to 2009, adult education enrollment grew by 30 percent – faster than any other state over the same period. There are now about 40,000 citizens who are helped academically each year.
One of the key programs offered by adult education is the GED. Since 2000, nearly 106,000 Kentuckians have received this diploma, which was 13th best nationally when measuring that as a percentage of the eligible population.
Just as the numbers of GED students are increasing, more are passing the test as well. The passing rate was about 70 percent in 2000 but now hovers around 80 percent. Of those taking the test, more than half are between 18 and 34, and about a third are between 34 and 64.
The hope is that we can get even more Kentuckians to join them this decade. It’s estimated there are still about 786,000 adults in the Commonwealth without a high school diploma or a GED, and more than a half-million of those are 64 or younger.
Those who return for their GED cannot only take pride in their accomplishment; they are also in line to see their income jump significantly, too. A 2007 report by the U.S. Census said the salary difference between those without a high school diploma and those who have one or its equivalency is $8,700 a year.
For the 9,357 Kentuckians who got their GED in 2010, that’s a potential $2.4 billion bump in pay over a 30-year career. If we can get the number of graduates up to 15,000 annually – the goal adult education officials have set for 2020 – this number would rise by well over $1 billion.
Not surprisingly, salaries increase even more for those who move on to college. About 20 percent of GED graduates do just that, with all but a handful staying relatively close to home at a KCTCS school.
Just as we want more citizens taking the GED, we also need more to go on to college. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that most jobs now require at least some postsecondary training, and by 2013 it’s expected that 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs will need it.
The easiest way to boost our college-bound numbers, of course, is to do all we can to lower the number of high school dropouts to begin with. It’s something the Kentucky House has tried several times over the last couple of years by proposing to increase the dropout age from 16 to 18.
The need to do that became much clearer earlier this month, when education officials released a revised dropout figure that is designed to make comparisons with other states much easier. For the class of 2010, the latest year available, the graduation rate was 76 percent. In other words, one-fourth of the students in that class started high school but did not finish it. If there is a silver lining, it’s that the 2010 rate was better than the two previous years that had been re-calculated under the new formula.
Another way we’re getting more people into postsecondary school is Project Graduate.  This was started several years ago by our public four-year universities, and it is designed to attract those Kentuckians who have at least 90 credit hours but had to leave school before getting their diploma.
The latest statistics show that almost 500 students re-enrolled through Project Graduate have completed that journey. Last fall and this past spring, hundreds of others were on the path to follow in their footsteps.
If getting a GED or college diploma is something you would like to see in your future, there are a couple of places where you can start. First, every county has adult-education programs that are a great resource. The state provides help online, too. Kentucky Adult Education’s website is www.kyae.ky.gov, while www.knowhow2goky.org can also help with adult education as well as Project Graduate. Just click on “Adult” when you go there to find the latest information and available options.
As always, I would like to hear if you have any thoughts or questions about this information or any other issue affecting state government. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.
State Representative Rick Rand