That point made, before proceeding let’s join in saluting AT&T Georgia for donating $50,000 to the Technical College System of Georgia to cover the $160 cost for taking the high-school equivalency test (GED) for those insufficiently fortunate to be able to afford it after taking the courses and classes that the state provides them — for free — to reach this point.
This is the second year in a row that AT&T has made such a donation, which deserves applause, but let’s be realistic: This is a drop not in the bucket but in an ocean.
According to the U.S. Census, Georgia has more than 1.1 million residents age 25 and older who lack a high-school diploma or GED. Why those of ages 19-24 in similar conditions aren’t counted goes unexplained but should be rectified now that the official state/federal graduation rate is based on finishing high-school in four years flat, or usually at about age 18, with no going into overtime allowed for statistical purposes.
And, as none should need to be reminded, getting to that level of education is “free” only in the sense of being taxpayer-provided, just as are the later-date state GED courses for all, unless they wish to avail themselves of a privately/personally paid alternative.
ALAS, that $50,000 will only cover test expenses for roughly 312 test takers. That’s assuming they take all five sections (reading, writing, social studies, science, math) at one sitting. Otherwise the cost is now $50 per piece, a price increase that went into effect back in 2011.
According to Pete McDonald, vice president of economic development at Georgia Northwestern Technical College headquartered in Rome, there are currently 568 students taking GED preparation courses on the school’s Floyd County campus alone.
According to the Census Bureau’s “2007-2011 American Community Survey” in Floyd County there are almost 9,000 men older than 25, and almost 8,000 women in the same 25-and-up category, without a high-school education. That’s roughly 17,000 and, just to brush away preconceptions too many to hold, more than two-thirds are of “white” designation.
Statewide, it is estimated that more than 95,000 Georgians are enrolled in the free GED courses to try to get back to where they should have been at about age 18. And that 95,000 is less than 10 percent of the number that should be engaged in such a catch-up, make-up effort even as, each and every year, more new members are added to the “didn’t finish high school” club. The state estimate for 2011 was 30,751 students leaving without a diploma.
OF THOSE GED catch-up effort numbers, probably the majority are “less fortunate.” Even if employed — and the number of jobs in the economy not requiring at least a high-school/GED education is estimated at less than 20 percent ... and shrinking fast — they earn about $9,000 a year less than their peers who completed 12 years of no-cost public education or the equivalent. For most of them a $160 test fee — after investing much time and effort in a state remediation effort offered at no cost to them — is a whole lot of money even if working, although many of them aren’t.
All this is not meant to imply that AT&T and others in state leadership roles, public as well as private, are whistling against the wind in their efforts. AT&T knows, as do most, on which side the bread is buttered, that the quality of their workforce selection pool depends on this ... as do their business/profit opportunities. Folks that can’t afford a $160 testing fee aren’t going to be buying a lot of the growing line of products and services that AT&T offers. Or much of a lot of other things either.
This is a seemingly perpetual situation in desperate need of a permanent repair and not patchwork solutions.
Now, the questions that should be asked are not regarding how dropouts happen. There are loads of causes for that, most having little to do with actual individual ability. There are peer pressures, family income needs, a state curriculum that tends to try to pound square pegs into round holes and not favor individualism, school discipline needs that seek to get rid of “trouble makers” and so forth. Not all systems are like Rome and have special schools established to try to pick up those pieces right away, although that would be a good start.
HOWEVER, if the public-policy assumption is that a high-school diploma or equivalent is the minimum level of education to be functional in our society/economy, if it is offered free (with tax money) for 12 grades and even for remedial coursework afterward, then why are those supposed to be encouraged to make this attempt being asked to come up with cold, hard cash many likely don’t have to get it finished?
Nor is this $160 a state policy. It is the price set by a private, national billion-dollar corporation whose business is most things involving testing. Nonetheless, it could be something that needs to be paid for by the public purse if the public purpose is to be achieved.
For one thing, it would seem a rather cost-efficient outlay given that this same population makes up a large portion of all the rest of the “safety net” costs. There are many life miseries/problems that add recipients to those rolls, but how many could be subtracted if “not enough education to hold a job” could be subtracted?
For that matter, why does the state continue to permit dropping out of school at age 16? Why shouldn’t the “law” be one has to stay in school until reaching the age of majority (that is 18 for those who didn’t get far enough in school to learn this). Why shouldn’t driver’s licenses (a state grant of permission and not a right) be automatically voided until the age of 21 if a student drops out?
THE POINT is that a commitment such as the one made by AT&T should not even be necessary. They are caused by bad and poor public policy. Schooling and GED instruction are provided by the taxpayers and then, as the grand finale, the student (or a benefactor) has to pay for the final exam or else all earlier outlays have gone to waste? If students can’t afford to rent a cap and gown, are they informed they’ve just wasted 12 years and won’t get a diploma?
But never worry, never fear, the “less fortunate” can always go on the dole or whatever instead of having the ability/opportunity to make their own way in the world.
Perhaps those in the ranks of upset taxpayers have good reason to be aggrieved, but it is often less because of the dollars draining out through the hole in their pockets but more because nobody has ever insisted that the obvious holes, like this one, get stitched closed.