LITTLE ROCK – The state not only funds education for children, but also provides various classes for more than 50,000 adults every year.
GED classes are some of the most well known programs for adults. Last year 3,312 Arkansas residents took the GED tests and 2,885 passed, for a passing rate of 87 percent. That puts Arkansas above the national passing rate of 79 percent. In 2015 Arkansas test takers did even better, with a GED pass rate of 95 percent.
About 470,000 adults in Arkansas never finished high school, and a GED is a great first step for them to improve their jobs skills and continue their educations.
Another way for adults to get better jobs is to get a WAGE certificate from the state Department of Career Education. Most classes are held at Adult Education Centers. They teach entry level job skills for bank tellers, office and industrial workers. Last year more than 2,000 adults earned a certificate, and according to research by the Department they averaged a salary increase of almost 18 percent.
WAGE certificates and GEDs are provided by the Department’s Adult Education Division, which also offers English classes for adults who grew up speaking another language.
According to studies cited by the Department, people who earn a high school diploma or its equivalent will earn, on average, $568,000 more in their lifetimes than people without a diploma.
At a recent ceremony at the state Capitol, the top 25 scorers on this year’s GED tests were honored. Several of them spoke of plans to attend college.
At another ceremony at the Capitol, a group of adult graduates gathered on the steps to hear a graduation speech. They were dressed in caps and gowns, and at the end of the ceremony they tossed their caps in the air.
The Division also sends teachers to local businesses, at no cost to the business, through Workplace Education programs. Employers host the classes on their premises to improve the literacy and computer skills of their workers.
Besides learning technical skills, the adults also learn what are called “soft skills” that are often necessary to land a better job. Soft skills include punctuality, knowing how to dress appropriately, good personal hygiene and effective communication with others.
The Division is relatively small, with fewer than 20 employees, but it coordinates programs offered statewide by 36 local agencies that include school districts, community colleges and non-profits.
The Division also taught classes to about 3,500 inmates in state prisons, as well as to more than 5,000 people who get food stamps or welfare and who are required to take job training in order to qualify for benefits.
The Adult Education Division is separate from the Division of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Division, which is responsible for vocational offerings for students who are still in high school.
A Fordham Institute study found that high school students who took more than one CTE class increased their likelihood of graduating, and increased their opportunities for college and employment. The study counters the long-standing stigma that vo-tech and “shop” classes were academic dead ends.