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Fewer Texans Are Earning Their GED Despite State's Population Growth

Stella M. Chavez
Sharee Davis talks to Crystal Jordan, one of the students in her GED test prep class at the Eastside Workforce Center in Fort Worth in January 2014. Jordan dropped out of school in the 8th grade.

More than three million adults in Texas don’t have a high school diploma or the equivalent of one. And the number of adults in Texas taking the General Equivalency Diploma test, or GED, has been dropping for the past decade, according to a new report.

Texas, along with California, leads the country in the percentage of adults lacking a high school diploma or the equivalent of one, says the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities. That's 17.6 percent of the state's population age 25 and older.

In 2003, more than 36,000 adults completed and received their GED. In 2016, that number dropped to slightly more than 21,000. That’s despite the fact that the population in Texas increased.

Chandra Villanueva, the study’s author, attributes the drop in the number of people taking the GED exam in part to the test costing more and the exam going from a paper-based test to online in 2014.

“Too many adults who have been out of the education system are just not very comfortable with a computer,” Villanueva said.

The new test also became more difficult. A couple of years later, however, the company that made the test lowered the score needed to pass the test and made those changes retroactive for people who'd taken the new exam.

Credit Center For Public Policy Priorities

The number of test-takers and people who got their GED did go up in 2013, but it dropped dramatically the following year. The study attributes that spike in part to people being concerned about the new exam that came out 2014. Some adults decided to take the test ahead of the changes.

While more people have access to the internet today, Villanueva said many are still more used to accessing it on their phone.

“Being on a desktop computer and clicking through modules and using a mouse is a much different experience than just accessing the internet on your phone," Villanueva said. "So when people aren’t very comfortable using a computer and then all of a sudden there’s a timer, that can create a lot of anxiety."

Villanueva understands the challenges of getting an education first-hand. She didn't graduate from high school, but did get an GED and later went on to college, ultimately earning a master's degree. She's talked and written about her personal experience

She said the state needs to offer a better support system for people who want to take the GED and seek a higher education. She'd also like the state to include more specific steps for boosting participation in high school equivalency tests. And, she wants to the state to track long-term outcomes, like who participated in test-prep programs and how they fared in landing jobs and other opportunities.

“I feel like the state really just needs to do more outreach, making sure that there’s testing centers in every county," she said. "We don’t have a lot of advertising about how to get a GED. There’s not a lot of support outreach or funding to help adults move forward in their education.” 

Villanueva said some people need more than just GED prep classes before taking the test, like help improving their language skills.

Read the full report 

KERA's original story about GED study.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.