In 2014 GED Testing Service is implementing a new version of the test. As WBEZ’s Front and Center reported in June the new test will be given on a computer, give more detailed scoring, and focus on skills needed for the new economy. But one of the issues adult educators are most worried about is the rising cost. In Illinois, the testing fee will more than double, rising from $50 to $120.
Michael Lindsay teaches GED math at Howard Area Community Center on Chicago’s far North Side. “I think it would drastically change the number of people who take the test.” said Lindsay, “Because $50 is a fortune [for our students.] So $120, I can’t even really imagine.”
The new cost is leading states, local testing centers, and adult educators to look for a solution, including alternatives to the GED.
Why is the cost rising?
Some adult educators are suspicious that GED Testing Service’s partnership with the for-profit company Pearson Learning Solutions is to blame for the higher price tag. But CT Turner, the Director of Public Affairs & Government Relations for GED Testing Service, says the decision was not motivated by profit. He says the new test may actually save money overall.
Turner breaks it down this way: In the past, local testing centers were responsible for scheduling, proctoring and scoring the tests. Since testing centers were usually located at public institutions like community colleges, that means municipal budgets are covering the expenses. Starting in 2014 GED Testing Service, will pay for all of that work.
States will still set their own prices, either subsidizing the $120 charged by GED Testing Service to lower how much students pay, or adding fees to cover additional operating cost. Analysis done by GED Testing Service concluded that the new test will cost the same, if not less, to administer in most locations. However more of the services are wrapped into the flat testing fee, rather than covered by individual centers. That makes it easier to pass along the cost to students.
Jennifer Foster, the Illinois Senior Director for Adult Education and the State Director for GED tests doesn’t think the position states are in now is being taken into consideration. Foster believes that when the test cost increases, many adult learners will not be able to afford the new test. That means someone is going to have to step up to cover the difference; possibly states.
“To look at it from Pearson viewpoint they are thinking they are saving us costs. But it’s actually harder for state and local budgets because we are going to have to do everything we can to cover the difference for the students,” said Foster. “If you are talking $70 times 30,000 students (the number of GED test takers every year in Illinois), you are talking a huge amount of resources.”
Who will pick up the tab?
There currently isn’t an Illinois state budget line to cover the cost of administering GED test, so every year state officials have to ask for a special appropriation to cover the GED test. It’s usually about $500,000. Considering the current state budget crises, Foster doesn’t believe lawmakers could get an appropriation large enough to cover the new fees for students.
Local centers, such as those at community colleges, are also looking for ways in which they might be able to step in and fill the hole. Sameer Gadkaree, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Adult Education at the City Colleges of Chicago, said, “Over 40% of our students have incomes below $24,000. So we think [the higher fees are] going to be a significant problem for students. We are looking to expand some of the scholarship models to more of the students.”
Turner, of GED Testing Service, suggests states and cities look towards local businesses. As employers need a more trained workforce, they may be willing to pick up the fees for employees or applicants.
As of now, no plan for the new cost is in place. However, some states, including Illinois and New York, are looking for alternatives to the GED. Foster says they are taking proposals from outside test makers, as well as considering PARRC, a test based on Common Core standards. Foster says they will continue to prepare for the new GED test in Illinois, as it’s unlikely any alternatives will be in place by 2014, when the new cost structure begins.