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With GED, Illinois Bundles Job Training

Mike Mozart (flickr.com/jeepersmedia)

Illinois is trying to expand educational opportunities for adults who didn't finish high school. That means moving beyond the GED.

The Census Bureau says average monthly earnings of a high school grad are nearly 10 percent higher than those of someone with a GED. And while a third of high school grads eventually earn a bachelor's degree, the GED number is 1 in 20.

State GED administrator Jennifer Foster says Illinois is effectively nudging GED students into expanding their education. That's done in part by offering GED classes in the context of vocational training.

"And so at the end of that, if they need to stop out and go and get employment, they have those industry-recognized credentials along with a basic certificate that can catapult them into the job world," Foster says.

A change in the system this year means the GED is both more expensive and more difficult. Foster says that's led to a big drop in the number of people taking GED tests.

“Whenever you change over a test, there’s always a diminishment in the number of students who take the test," she says. "So we’re trying to determine whether it’s because of the cost, or is it just because there is a new test and it is more rigorous."

Foster says the numbers have begun recovering — from just over 500 in January to 4,500 in May.

Last week, Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation that will remove all references to the GED from Illinois law. That reflects the fact that Illinoisans actually earn what’s called a “High School Equivalency Certificate.” GED is a brand name, and Foster says removing it gives Illinois the flexibility to contract with a different company in the future.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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