Fee for free: A great gift

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Virginia Pearce works in the computer lab at the Adult Learning Center on Depot Street as part of an Instruction Targeted for TABE Success course. The course prepares students for the Test for Adult Basic Education (TABE). (T-G Photo by John I. Carney)

For someone without a high school diploma, a GED can be the stepping stone to the next level of education, and ultimately to a new job or career. That stepping stone is especially vital in today's economy, said Elaine Weaver of Bedford County Adult Education Program on Depot Street.

But while Adult Education's classes are free, even the $50 cost to take the GED test at Motlow College is a hardship on some students. That testing fee can't be paid from the program's regular operating budget. Weaver said probably 20 to 25 of the 100 local GED students each year struggle to pay the test fee.

"It's very scary to me," she said.

"I really think the economy is a lot worse this year than it was last year," said Weaver. In the past two weeks, she's heard from three students who are going to have to drop out of the adult education program in order to get work to feed their families.

The Rotary Club of Shelbyville, which has supported adult education for decades, helps with scholarships for needy GED students. Ideally, the cost is split, with $25 coming from the scholarship fund and $25 coming from the student, so that he or she will still have a stake. This year, Weaver is challenging others to get involved as well, with a program called "Give a Gift ... Change a Life."

"We just thought maybe we would challenge the community as a whole," she said.

Adult Education is urging donors to give $50, the cost of a GED test, or more. At the holiday season, alternative Christmas gifts like giving money to charity in honor of a friend or family member has become more common. Weaver believes that giving someone the chance to earn a GED could mean giving them a future.

Weaver also said there are selfish reasons to promote adult education. She said the lack of education costs all of us, because it increases the need for incarceration, public assistance and charity health care.

"It costs in every way," she said. And she said an educated workforce helps with industrial recruitment.

"We attract industry through education," she said.

Adult Education offers a variety of programs. Officially, according to the figures it must submit to the federal government, it serves 400 to 500 per year, said Weaver. If you include those who aren't included in the official federal report, for example because they don't complete their final testing, the program touches probably 600 to 700 per year.

Weaver said a GED is not an end in itself but a "jumping-off point" for something else. The availability of lottery scholarship money causes some students to pursue additional education at Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville. The vocational skills available at TTCS can help students have a better chance of getting a job, she said.

For more information about the "Give a Gift ... Change a Life" program, call the Adult Education Program at 684-8635.