LINCOLN — While businesses scramble for workers, the number of Nebraskans earning high school equivalency has plummeted over the last five years, according to a new report.
The report, released Monday by Nebraska Appleseed, shows a 71 percent drop in state residents taking the General Educational Development, or GED, examination between 2013 and 2015.
The number who passed the test declined even more — from 2,432 down to 503, or almost 80 percent — during the same period.
Both numbers rebounded slightly in 2016 and 2017 but remain well below the levels of those who took and passed the test before a series of GED changes took effect in 2014.
Eric Savaiano, a program associate at Nebraska Appleseed, said the result means there are fewer Nebraskans available to fill jobs requiring high school education, fewer who can go on to higher education and more who are stuck in low-wage work.
“What we found is major obstacles exist for students to complete the GED and move ahead,” he said. “(Having) more adults with their high school equivalency not only supports the Nebraska economy, but improves quality of life and job prospects for Nebraska’s families.”
Appleseed is a nonprofit advocacy group that works on issues related to poverty, child welfare, immigration and affordable health care.
According to the report, almost 105,000 working age Nebraskans lack a high school diploma or equivalency. At the same time, surveys have found that 52 percent of employers had positions requiring a high school diploma or its equivalent that went unfilled during the past year.
Savaiano said the numbers of people taking and passing the GED nationally fell after the 2014 changes. Those changes included making the exam more rigorous; increasing its cost to $120 from $50; adding fees for practice tests; and switching entirely from paper and pencil tests to computer-based ones.
But the drop in Nebraska was larger than the national average, he said.
Some other states adopted alternative tests, which are cheaper and still allow for testing with paper and pencil. Nebraska is one of 23 states that only recognize the GED.
Nebraska also provides less funding for adult education programs aimed at a high school equivalency than most other states, the report said. The programs are housed in the state’s community colleges, the Plattsmouth and Crete public school districts and the state Department of Correctional Services.
According to the report, the state spent $164.53 per adult pupil in 2016, which ranks 43rd lowest nationally. The total this fiscal year includes $735,000 for institutions that offer GED education programs and $214,000 so adult education programs can hire part-time coordinators.
Appleseed offered several recommendations to help more Nebraskans get their high school equivalency. Among other things, the group called for more state funds to help subsidize the cost of GED tests, increase the number of paid instructors, offer more supports for students such as child care subsidies and expand computer access for students.
“It seems to be an issue we could solve with a little more investment,” Savaiano said.