---- — FORT WAYNE (AP) — Thinking about heading back to class to receive the equivalent of a high school diploma?
You aren’t alone.
Education providers who oversee high school equivalency test preparation services see record numbers of students enrolling in - and completing - degree programs such as GED certification.
Northeast Indiana Works, which partners with the Anthis Career Center, Huntington County Community School Corp., the Impact Institute in Kendallville and others released a report this week outlining the growth.
Northeast Indiana Works has fiscal oversight of state and federally supported adult education programs in the region and shares program oversight with the Northeast Indiana Adult Education Consortium.
From July to December - the first six months of the 2013-14 fiscal year - 576 people earned high school equivalencies, including GED certification, said Rick Farrant, Northeast Indiana Works’ director of communications. The 12-month total for 2012-13 was 653.
Also during the first six months of this school year, 1,606 people received test preparation and instruction. That compares with 2,312 for all of 2012-13.
Farrant attributes the growth primarily to ever-evolving job markets that require employees to have high school diplomas and beyond.
“People are beginning to realize that they really need to have this education in order to achieve family-sustaining wages and good jobs,” Farrant told The Journal Gazette.
“It is a significant number, and our hope is that more people continue to either graduate from high school or seek high school equivalency.”
Local classrooms that offer test preparation and instruction are seeing more seats filled with people who understand the opportunities additional education can provide, said Pat Boles, continuing education manager for Fort Wayne Community Schools.
“We’re making a dent, but when you see our total GEDs earned for the number of people out there without a (high school) degree, we still have a lot of work ahead,” Boles said.
According to U.S. census data, more than 33,000 Allen County residents - a little more than 13 percent of the population - age 18 or older do not have a high school diploma.
The Anthis Career Center, in the former Central High School building at 1200 Barr St., serves as a combined site for GED classes and testing as part of Fort Wayne Community Schools’ continuing education program.
From July 2012 to July 2013, Anthis helped 171 students earn a GED certificate Preliminary numbers from the first six months of 2013-14 show that 208 students already have passed the necessary tests to earn their certification.
Boles said the influx in test-takers, especially in the final two months of last year, is likely due to changes to the GED test.
Until the end of 2013, the GED - or General Educational Development - test was a five-section exam designed to measure the test-taker’s high school-level academic skills.
The GED test was created in the 1940s for veterans returning from war to give them the academic credentials they needed to get jobs, attend postsecondary education or have access to training, according to the GED Testing Service website.
In 2012, Pearson, the company that owns the rights to the GED test, announced plans to revamp the exam and create a computer program that aligns with national education standards - in addition to nearly doubling the cost of the test from $65 to $120. The test was most recently revised in 2002.
The changes also meant Hoosiers such as Allen Hackworth of Columbia City, who had only a few classes left to complete, would need to move quickly - or lose credits and be forced to start fresh with a new test.
Hackworth, 24, dropped out of Columbia City High School in 2008 and spent five years avoiding the GED test because he said he was afraid he might fail.
“I took the test once and was pretty close, but I didn’t pass. I didn’t think I needed it,” he said.
But after working for minimum wage at several jobs he didn’t enjoy, Hackworth decided in November he needed to make a change.
And if that change was a GED certificate, he needed to move quickly.
“I got signed up at Anthis for the classes and went every single day,” Hackworth said. “It was either all in, or forget about it.”
After two months of studying and preparing, Hackworth took the test and passed - just shy of the December cutoff.
Now Hackworth is preparing for his first semester at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast, where he hopes to study communications. He said he credits his GED work for providing the confidence he needed to move forward.
“It was embarrassing to say that I didn’t have it,” he said. “People who don’t think they can do it need to try. ... It’s definitely worth it.”