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Editorial: Diploma change provides second chance for many

Jacksonville Journal-Courier

Thursday, October 12, 2017  |  Editorial  |  

Education--Elementary and Secondary (36) , Education--Higher (37) , Lt. Governor (59)

It is amazing the difference a seemingly simple piece of parchment can make.

Until now, adults in Illinois who did not finish high school for whatever reason had only the option of a GED — a General Equivalency Development designation — to show they had basic skills needed for the workforce. It is a remnant of a military test to help World War II-era veterans get jobs or enroll in college. It was expanded over the years to help give a second chance to high school dropouts.

But did it?

While it’s admirable that about 750,000 people each year work to improve themselves by taking the GED test — and the perseverance and learning required should not be dismissed — there are conflicting studies as to whether it really helps.

Many employers say they see little difference between someone with a GED and someone who dropped out of school when it comes to hiring practices.

That has disproportionately affected women and minorities both nationally and in Illinois. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, 13 percent of Illinoisans over age 25 do not have a high school diploma. For Hispanics in state, the number hovers around 38 percent. It is about 15 percent for African-Americans in Illinois.

Unfortunately, there was not an opportunity for those over age 21 to earn a high school diploma.

That is changing with the signing into law of House Bill 2527. The measure signed into law last week by Gov. Bruce Rauner will amend state school codes to create adult degree programs.

That means anyone who never had a chance to get a high school diploma can take part in programs offered by community colleges and some Goodwill Excel Centers and have a chance at overcoming a hindrance that extends well-beyond high school years.

Those with a high school diploma make about $1,600 more a month on average that those with a GED.

“Obtaining a high school diploma is the bare minimum needed in today’s modern workplace environment. So many dreams are unreachable for those who lack a high school degree,” said Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, who worked with sponsors on the legislation. “This new law will for the first time give adults in Illinois the ability to earn a full-fledged high school diploma. It gives hope that no matter your age, educational opportunities are available to everyone.”

To some, it may seem like a simple piece of paper.

To many, it is a second chance to succeed.