Last week a 3-inch stack of letters showed up on my desk to be signed. On a regular basis I personally sign congratulatory letters to every student who completes their GED (General Education Development) certificate or HSED (High School Equivalency Diploma) through Fox Valley Technical College. Typically I’ll sign about 60-100 of these letters at any given time and annually we have about 500 individuals who earn their high school credential through our Adult Basic Education programming District-wide. But this stack of letters representing completers in the last few months of 2013 was out of the ordinary and had me thinking about the people represented by each letter.
The primary reason for the large surge of GED/HSED completions at the end of the year is the fact that the GED test that had been in use nationally since 2002 was completely changed effective January 1, 2014. Anyone who had been in progress toward their GED, but not completed that series of tests, would need to completely start over. It is estimated that approximately 43,000 individuals in the State of Wisconsin were in this situation. So, many individuals made the extra effort to forge ahead and complete in 2013. Good for them!
When I sign these letters, I look at each name and where they live. It is always fascinating to me that so many people who live in our region have not completed high school in spite of the excellent high school graduation rates experienced by our area’s schools. What’s clear to me is that we have many individuals and families moving in and out of the area and many who have dealt with a whole plethora of life’s challenges that have prevented them from attending and/or graduating with their high school classes wherever they may have been living at that time. And each year our GED/HSED completers also represent the entire age spectrum…from those in their early 20s to individuals in their 80s whose lifelong dream has been to earn their high school credential. We’ve opened the educational doors for many of these students that they never thought possible through this important first step.
As I signed this overwhelming stack of well over 300 letters I kept thinking about how our region’s workforce desperately needs each and every one of these people. But we need them to develop workforce skill levels that go well beyond the GED/HSED. And we need them in occupations and industries that are having a difficult time attracting people with the necessary skill sets. Many of these individuals desperately need to pursue Fox Valley Technical College’s technical, occupational programs to really have the career opportunities available in our local economy.
And yet, most of these individuals will not continue their education to be eligible for these opportunities based on our on-going follow-up analysis of this student population. I imagine this is the case for a variety of reasons, but I can’t help but wonder what could be done to help these individuals and families have much brighter career and economic futures? How do we get them to take that critically important next step? Are there New Year’s resolutions we might make on their behalf? I would be very interested in hearing your ideas.