CHARLIE MITCHELL: Deadline looms for students seeking equivalency diplomas

CHARLIE MITCHELL

CHARLIE MITCHELL

OXFORD

Church rec halls and Sunday school rooms all over Mississippi are pretty busy places on weeknights. So are community centers and community college classrooms.

Hundreds of residents – no exact tally is available – are facing a Dec. 31 deadline to complete their high school equivalency diplomas as part of their choice to seek a life of independence.

They deserve every measure of support and encouragement they can get.

What’s the rush?

The GED is rebooting on Jan. 1, 2014. Anyone who has completed one or more of the five separate tests but not all of them will have to start over. Nothing fun about that.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, one in four Mississippians who could (or should) have graduated from high school in 2011 did not. Also according to the DOE, 69 percent of those who didn’t do the cap-and-gown thing were in “economically disadvantaged” situations.

Guess what? Without the diploma or its equivalency, they’re likely to stay that way. It’s an open secret in Mississippi and elsewhere that well-intended social programs also have created dependency traps. A subsistence life swimming in an alphabet soup of aid programs, public and private, is led by hundreds of thousands of people in this state.

Many who are not on food stamps, in public or subsidized housing, on Medicaid or partaking of any of the array of programs tend to be angry with those who are, to think less of them.

People who make these judgments tend to think there’s a quick and easy path out. There’s not, which is all the more reason to be supportive of those working to pass the GED.

The test has five parts. Lots of people think it’s a government program. It’s not. The GED is administered by a private company. It costs $75 to start and then $15 to take any part of the test more than once. To take or retake the test online costs more. While many organizations offer prep courses at no charge, others charge a fee. There are also online tutorials for a fee and fees for written pretest instruction books.

And the tests are not easy:

How’s your science knowledge?

A cook decides to recover some table salt that has been completely dissolved in water. Which of the following processes would be the most effective method of extracting salt from the solution?

A. Spinning the solution in a mixer.

B. Boiling away the water.

C. Pouring the solution through filter paper.

D. Bubbling pure oxygen through the solution.

Here’s a math sample:

Johnson scored 8 more points than Jamison in a basketball game. Together, their scores were a quarter of their team’s total score, which was 112. Which equation illustrates this problem?

A. 4 (8+x) = 112.

B. 4 (2x+8) = 112.

C. 112/4 = 8 + x.

D. x = 112/(4×8).

The good news is that Mississippi’s GED rules are fairly liberal. An applicant can take a test as many times as he or she needs to do so in order to pass. Someone who passed four sections of the test back in 1971 and hasn’t passed the last one yet, can still sign up.

So, how much difference does a high school degree make?

In dollars, the average is about $9,500 more per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In terms of gaining employment at all, more than 4 percentage points. Last year’s unemployment rate for people without high school degrees was 12.4 percent; for people with high school degrees it was 8.3 percent. And, yes, it’s true, a person can’t even qualify for any branch of the U.S. military without a high school or equivalency diploma.

So, three cheers for those struggling in these last few weeks of 2013 to complete the battery of tests that will lead to more opportunities, a better chance to control their own futures. And three cheers, as well, for the churches, schools, employers and volunteers who are offering them help and encouragement.

Oh. If you’re wondering. “B” on both sample questions.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email cmitchell43@yahoo.com.