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A New Option for High School Equivalency: The Growing Demand for Adult Diplomas

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 -- Leslie Holland

Did you know that 1 in 6 American adults has low literacy skills, and 1 in 3 has low numeracy skills? That’s a significant population, and the repercussions are serious. 60 million American adults don’t have the credentials and skills they need to be successful in postsecondary education—even though the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce projects that by 2020, 65% of all U.S. jobs will require some postsecondary training.

What’s the best way to combat this gap in adult skills? Adult education programs are an important piece of the puzzle.

Adult education is an umbrella term for the wide variety of programs that serve adult learners preparing for high school equivalency exams to strengthen literacy, numeracy, problem solving, those looking to gain key employment skills, and adult English-language learners (ELLs). Many adult ELLs are immigrants also working towards citizenship and taking both literacy and civics classes.

The landscape of adult education has grown increasingly complex over the past 15 years. The introduction of the College and Career Readiness Standards, the release of the updated GED in 2014, the addition of the new HiSET and TASC high school equivalency exams, as well as the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2016 have made adult education a vastly more complex and diverse field.  However, the most buzzworthy conversation within it has now shifted to the emerging third option for high school completion—adult diploma programs.

No one can argue with the fact that high school diplomas open doors. Even though most colleges and employers accept the GED, it’s clear that applicants with a high school diploma consistently get the nod. There remains a stigma around GED holders of also being high school drop outs—and as a result, college review boards and hiring managers alike question the ability of these applicants to persevere through challenges. What’s more, many institutions see the years spent in the classroom that a high school diploma indicates simply can’t be substituted with a passing grade on a single GED exam.

Adult diplomas present an appealing third option because they require learners to fulfill the same expectations as traditional high school students—not just demonstrate equivalency. Like standard high school programs, many have requirements beyond core subjects, expanding the breadth of adult learners’ skills, and incorporating additional instructional time. The benefits of these programs over the GED are clear, but the best way to develop, regulate, and accredit them is not.

At this point, each state has the leeway to make their own rules about adult diploma programs and requirements. As state requirements evolve, and demand for adult diplomas grow, more and more programs are emerging at brick-and-mortar schools and community agencies, as well as through online providers. Making sure all of these options offer high-quality content and provide adult learners with an experience that is truly on-par with a traditional high school education will be an ongoing challenge. For some insight into what the landscape currently looks like, below are examples of adult diploma requirements in several states leading the charge:

Ohio Department of Education: Adult Diploma Program

Minnesota Adult Basic Education: Adult Diploma

California Department of Education: Adult Education

Interested in learning more about how Edmentum’s online courses can help provide the variety and quality of content your adult learners need to achieve their academic and career goals? Check out our comprehensive library of core, elective, and career technical education courses for adult learners!