State looking to boost adult education

Former State Senator Gary Cates of Butler County, is a senior vice chancellor for the Ohio Board of Regents, which met last week at Miami University in Oxford. He talked about ABLE, the Adult Basic Literacy Education program. In addition to its GED services, ABLE also offers family literacy courses, English as a second language courses, computer literacy and more.

There are two ABLE locations in Butler County, at Butler Tech and Hamilton City Schools. Butler Tech has ABLE classes in Middletown, Hamilton, Fairfield and Oxford, according to the Butler Tech website. The Hamilton City Schools location serves mostly downtown Hamilton, said the ABLE coordinator there, Tawna Eubanks.

The program is meant to address what Cates called “overlooked and neglected” people — those over 18 without a high school diploma. Statewide, ABLE serves about 39,000 people annually, and of those, 5,600 people complete the General Education Development (GED) certificate, he said.

“We’re trying to tie together our resources and other things on how we can expand our service to more people in this state. Clearly, with a million people not having a high school diploma, and we’re getting 39,000 people through a year, we’re only scratching the surface,” Cates said.

Nationally, the numbers are even more dramatic. Out of a population of more than 300 million, 38 million people aged 18 or older do not have a high school diploma, Cates said.

These programs are particularly important because “when you go to a GED ceremony, and you see people who have overcome a lot of obstacles to come back, at some age, to get their high school diploma, it’s more impacting in their lives than you would realize,” he said.

The state can’t make people go through ABLE, as “they’ve got to want it, but we need to make sure we’re providing opportunities to be there for them,” Cates added.

Butler Tech’s ABLE serves more than 800 people a year, whereas Hamilton’s served 720 people last year, according to the directors of their programs. Last year, Butler Tech took over the program that had been run through Middletown City Schools, said Terri Bennett, the Butler Tech coordinator.

Hamilton has an 82 percent retention rate, “which means 82 percent of the students made a gain of at least one level academically,” said Eubanks. Their program has existed for more than 30 years in the district, she added.

Test harder, more expensive

More recently, however, people seeking GEDs have faced tougher educational and financial obstacles. Cates said the test is harder because it’s aligned with Common Core standards recently adopted by the Ohio Department of Education. In addition, the price of GED testing tripled from $40 to $120, Cates said.

“When I go to classrooms, the teachers will tell you they’re really concerned about seeing a drop-off in graduations and participation because of the cost and because of the complexity,” Cates said.

However, Eubanks said the state is compensating for that by offering an $80 voucher to people who take career counseling.

Students can also take the tests in sessions by spending $10 for the math portion, for example, said Bennett.

ABLE is federally funded, with Ohio receiving $14 million to $15 million per year, based on population, which equals spending of $600 per participant. The State of Ohio puts in $7 million additional, Cates said.

The problem is, that number can’t increase. If Ohio were to increase its share from $7 million to $14 million, “the federal government says we’re not giving you any more money, and that becomes the new floor of support. There’s no incentive for us to put more money into it, because we’re almost, in fact, penalized,” Cates said.

Cates doesn’t like that, largely because he has seen for himself what the emotional impact of ABLE is.

“Of all the things we do at the Board of Regents, on a personal level, I can’t think of anything that means more to people in this program. You wouldn’t feel that way unless you get a chance to see them up close. To see the look in people’s eyes when they get that paper, that they’ve taken 30 years or more to get, there are tears flowing. My tears, let alone theirs,” Cates said.

In Hamilton, “students return to us saying they’ve gone into real estate. They’ve put their dreams on hold for so long that it really opens doors when they complete the program,” said Eubanks.

The same goes for Butler Tech, said Bennett.

“It’s an incredible experience, whatever the reason. For some, it’s a lifelong dream. For others, it’s so they can get a particular job,” she said.

Vinod Gupta, the chair of the Board of Regents, told Cates, “I applaud your efforts … When there’s a disincentive for the state to put money in a program, something is seriously wrong for something that is needed most, to have a major impact on the unemployment in our state.”

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