Program lets GED test-takers avoid cost of exams

Angeleena Medina with her one-year-old son Collin Kochevar at her home as she studies for her GED.

Most people pursuing their GED — or high-school equivalency degree — know something about obstacles.

Mesa County Libraries, though, has cleared the path to the GED with the recent announcement that they'll cover the cost of the tests for students who successfully participate in the library's recharged GED study program.

"If you think about, demographically, the people who would be taking the GED test, they're typically not at a place in life where they can afford additional costs," said James Price, head of literacy services.

"They're usually working entry-level jobs. Maybe they dropped out for various reasons, they have kids that they're taking care of or family — all of those things that pull people away, and pull funds in different directions."

The library already offers free preparatory classes, notably with an instructor who provides individualized attention to struggling students. And now a new grant program allows the library to also cover the costs of the four GED tests that students must pass to get their equivalency degree.

Each of the tests — in language arts, social studies, science and math — costs test-takers $37.50, meaning students usually have to come up with $150 in test fees to eventually earn their GED.

"Being able to shell out even just the $37.50 for one of those tests can be pretty daunting, especially when you think about how large of a percentage that is of their income," Price said.

Test fees will be covered for students who dedicate themselves to the library's prep class program — an informal benchmark the library uses is 40 hours in the program — and who successfully take a practice test that shows they're ready to pass the GED.

"If you have the time and the energy, then that's something that you can give that doesn't cost you anything, except time and energy," Price said. "That's basically all we're requiring of people — to come in and invest those things in our program."

Price said that one of the things he loves most about his job is how he gets to see folks change their lives for the better. That profile fits both Angeleena Medina and Elsa Pennington, two people currently in the library's GED program.

Medina, 21, went to Grand Junction High School for a while when "personal stuff" forced her to drop out. But now she's working hard to get her equivalency degree.

"I just had a son a year ago, so I feel like it's something I need to do for him," she said.

"The library has been great because they're really one-on-one with you, the classes aren't big at all, and they spend a lot of time making sure that you understand what it is you're having trouble with," she said.

"They are all super-supportive over there," Medina raved. "I feel like I can get it done, and they're not rushing me or anything, which is great."

Pennington, 38, has already passed two of the four GED tests, and called her degree pursuit a "personal goal." Originally from Mexico, she's been in the U.S. for about 16 years, the Grand Valley for the last three. Confidently fielding a reporter's questions over the phone, she called her GED pursuit a "double challenge" as she's also learning English as a second language.

"I like that we have a teacher," Pennington said about the library GED program. "For me, I like it better to interact with the teacher and my classmates."

Students like Medina and Pennington will be rolled in to the library's GED prep program, which Price said has been offered since 2018 but this year is less of a trial, with the help of the new grant-funded program to pay test fees. Fall GED prep classes begin Aug. 12, but students will be allowed to enter the program after that date.

The fee program is provided through grant funds from the local United Way chapter, which saw the program as an opportunity to help people become self-sustaining, find a new job, or move up in the community.

"It's more than just education. It's about getting people to that next place in life," Price said.

Roughly 10 percent of the local population, or about 15,000 people, never earned their high school or equivalent degree.

"There's still a huge gap of people in the community who need GED classes," Price said.

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