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Changes to GED program could make it harder to get degree

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Frank Schultz
May 6, 2013

— If there’s an urgent need, somebody will concoct a scam to exploit it.

That’s what’s happening with upcoming changes in the GED, or General Education Degree, the program that helps people get high school diplomas.

The tests that lead to this alternative diploma will change next January. Anyone who has started taking the tests but has not finished by the end of this year will have to start over.

That’s the urgency. Here’s the scam: Shady organizations are offering high school “diplomas,” for a fee.

A local woman recently tried to enroll at Blackhawk Technical College with such a diploma.

It wasn’t the first time, said Terese Tann, the college’s testing coordinator.

Tann said she has encountered this about 10 times in the past seven years. Twice, she’s been able to help.

“I call and threaten the people to give them their money back. I’ve been successful with that,” Tann said.

The diploma mills change their phone numbers frequently and are often offshore, so they often disappear, leaving victims who have paid $250 to $1,300 with nothing to show for it, Tann said.

A General Education Degree costs $75. Classes are free at Blackhawk and other locations around the state. The fee is for the battery of five tests, but a new state grant program will even cover the fee for those who enroll soon.

Tann said some people pass the tests within two weeks, while others can take up to six months.

In Rock and Green counties, more than 1,100 adults have begun the tests but have not completed them, Tann said.

Others might be considering getting their diplomas, but if they wait until next year, they’ll face new tests that are taken on computer.

People without computer skills could find the new tests challenging, but if they start now, they can still take the paper-and-pencil tests, Tann said.

Other differences between the new and old tests:

-- Two essay questions instead of one.

-- The new tests are aligned to the Common Core Standards, which are supposed to help students be college- or career-ready.

-- The new diplomas will state whether the holder is a high performer or something less than that. The current diplomas say only that the person passed the tests.

The General Education Degree program, commonly called GED, has been around since the 1940s. It was started to help military veterans returning from World War II.

Tann said studies have shown that having a high school diploma can make a difference of $1 million in earnings over a lifetime. A college degree adds to that total.

The advantage is not just measured in dollars. It can also be an inheritance.

Tann tells of her own mother, who got her diploma late in life and went on to get a degree at Blackhawk Tech.

Education was always a focus for her mother, Tann said, and all her siblings graduated from high school or college.

“It’s usually just the beginning for families, not the end,” Tann said.

To apply for GED program

People who have not begun the General Education Degree process or who are interested in completing their diplomas this year can attend upcoming information and assessment sessions.

The four-hour sessions will help people determine if they qualify for a free program in which they will take Blackhawk Technical College classes and be able to complete the five tests.

Books, meals and calculators will be provided.

The sessions are scheduled for:

-- 4:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 7, in Room 414 at Blackhawk Technical College-Monroe, 210 4th Ave.

-- 4:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, in Room 127 at Blackhawk Technical College-Beloit Center, 50 Eclipse Center.

-- 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Friday, May 10, in Room G at the Rock County Job Center, 1900 Center Ave., Janesville.

-- 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Friday, May 17, in Room G at the Job Center in Janesville.

An applicant will need to provide a Wisconsin driver’s license or a state identity card.

Those accepted will qualify for classes at the Job Center from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. May 21-31 or from 4:30-9 p.m. May 29-June 20 at Blackhawk Technical College-Monroe or Blackhawk Technical College-Beloit.

Register in advance for the assessment and information sessions by contacting Wendy Schultz at 608-757-7726 or at wschultz@blackhawk.edu.



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