10/04/2012 12:37 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2012

How Adult Education Can Help Close the Skills Gap

The blog posted on the Huffington Post on Sept. 26 entitled "How Adult Education Can Help Close the Skills Gap" sounds incredibly promising but is, unfortunately, incomplete, potentially misleading and based on a faulty analysis of the current state of adult education in the United States.

The author, Mr. Trask, is right on point about the need to invest in adult education. What is incorrect is his implication that the problem is a matter of expectations and that rolling out a test with higher standards will in itself increase the number of adults prepared for college and careers. There is a critical and much more subtle issue of access that Mr. Trask is completely silent about. The revamping of the GED is, in theory, a step in the right direction. As adult educators, we absolutely want non-traditional adult learners to have career and college ready skills. That has been Academy of Hope's mission in the District for close to 28 years. The fundamental problem is that this new GED test has the potential to leave thousands of D.C. adults behind. Here's why.

Prohibitive Cost. What the author fails to mention is that the cost of the new GED is going to double or even triple. The current paper-based GED costs $50 -- a fee that is already excessive for most of the learners at Academy of Hope. We have had to raise money to help cover this cost. The 2014 GED is set to cost $120 its first year with no guarantee of what the cost will be in subsequent years. The GED is, as Mr. Trask put it so eloquently, not an endpoint but a stepping stone to higher education and training, but raising the price of the GED will effectively make it inaccessible for those who need it the most: low-income and low-skilled adults.

Lack of Training and Resources. Mr. Trask also fails to mention, even as he advocates for government and private entities to invest more in adult education, that neither the GED Testing Service nor any official entity has provided sufficient resources for adult education providers to be able to prepare adult learners for the new exam. To date the GED Testing Service's sole publication has been a three-chapter assessment toolkit which sheds some light on the format of the test and the type of questions but not nearly enough information on the content of the test. In order for adult education providers, whether they are part of the local public school system, community colleges or community-based organizations, to effectively prepare learners for the new test, we need a comprehensive process of technical training, resources and clear guidelines.

Rush to market. According to information released by the GED Testing Service, the new test will be launched in January of 2014. At a later date, possibly six to 12 months later, the practice test will be rolled out. At an even later date (12-24 months), a diagnostic exam will be released. This means that for up to two years, adults who wish to take the GED will have no way to assess their preparedness for the exam and will likely end up taking the exam multiple times, thereby increasing the cost. Perhaps the rush to push this product onto the market is because one of the parent companies of the GED Testing Service is Pearson VUE, a for-profit commercial testing company. Whatever the motivation, this is absolutely the wrong way of introducing a massively re-developed test that is the only nationally accepted and adopted equivalent of a high school diploma.

Adult education needs to be at the center of policy and national discourse, not just because of the financial implications, but because it is an integral and legitimate sector of how we educate people in this country. Mr. Trask cites valid statistics about the labor market demanding more high skilled workers, the increased earning potential of workers with a high school credential and how a better educated populace brings down rates of incarceration and dependency on social services. More importantly, adults who improve their education are transformed; they gain confidence, self-esteem, a sense of purpose and empowerment. They become greater contributors to their children's education, they are able to better understand and manage their health and that of their families, and they can participate more fully in society as informed citizens. The federal, state and local governments need to invest in training for adult educators and access to computers and Internet service, especially for low-income adults preparing to take the GED exam.

If the GED Testing Service truly believes that adult education can help close the skills gap and intends for the GED to be that stepping stone, then it needs to maintain the current cost of the test and refrain from launching the test before it can provide all the requisite resources, practice material and technical support for providers and learners.