Warren-Forest Hi-Ed ready to start adult diploma program

Not finishing high school doesn’t have to be the end of the road for your education.

One step forward is acquiring your GED (General Educational Development Test), but for those looking for a little more, there are adult diploma programs.

The Warren-Forest Higher Education Council (Hi-Ed), through a partnership with the Warren County School District (WCSD), is getting ready to start its adult diploma program for the sixth time.

The program starts on Sept. 17 and runs through the end of April on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. In total, students complete 160 instructional hours beyond the GED and are required to complete 10 hours of community service to graduate.

The program starts out with typing and Microsoft Word and Excel classes. In October, Gary Lester teaches Getting the Life that You Want. Students move on to comprehensive reading and, in November, begin 60 hours worth of math instruction through Novanet, the same program used for cyber-learning students in the WCSD. In March, students move on technical and resume writing classes and public speaking. In April, CPR and First Aid are added to the curriculum and students will meet with representatives of regional colleges, both on future plans and for a variety of classes. Students also participate in hands-on science from the Audubon Society of Jamestown and may take a trip to Harrisburg for a first-hand look at government.

The program, which has been recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, provides the additional credits beyond a GED needed to obtain a diploma. The GED provides 22 credits toward a diploma while the diploma program provides an additional six.

In fact, the original program was designed in conjunction with then-Assistant Superintendent Hugh Dwyer.

“They’ve always been on board with the program,” Hi-Ed Program Manager Donna Smith recalled. “We’ve done this in partnership with the district.”

The program isn’t just designed to provide students a piece of paper though, program content is coordinated with business to provide graduates with skills they need.

According to Smith, businesses were hiring GED recipients, but they didn’t have the skills needed to advance.

“Their math skills weren’t adequate. Their reading skills weren’t adequate,” Smith said. “They were hiring them at entry level positions, but they weren’t moving beyond that.”

Smith said, in conjunction with the school district, a program was designed to provide further skills, in part to meet business needs.

“We decided to use the GED as a jumping off point. To provide them with the other six credits,” she noted.

Today, one-third of the cost of the program is funded by local businesses.

“It shows that we’re responding to the need of local business,” Smith said.

The program is open to anyone who is eligible to take their GED.

“If you’re 17, you would have to wait until your class has graduated,” Smith noted.

According to Smith, having obtained your GED is not a requirement to enter the program, but it is to complete it.

“A lot of students do their GED and the diploma program at the simultaneously,” she said, noting the program had a 63 percent completion rate, but a higher rate for GED completion. “Most of them have at least gotten their GED. Not only are we getting their diplomas, we’re getting people to get their GEDs who weren’t doing that.”

Smith said student age varies considerably, with an average student being between 21 and 35, but that students in their 50s have taken the course.

“Eighteen to, well, we’ve had someone 55,” Smith noted.

The age differences make for a broadening of horizons, she said.

“It’s not just academic. There is a social aspect to it,” Smith said. “Usually after they go through the math together. It’s interesting to see a 45-year-old interacting with an 18-year-old and relating to each other.”

While the gross cost of the program is approximately $1,500, funding from other sources, such as local businesses brings the cost to students down to approximately $125.

If that seems steep, you likely qualify for aid. Those between age 17 and 21 qualify to have the entire cost paid for while, for others, scholarships of up to 75 percent of the cost are available through Hi-Ed.

“I don’t know of anyone who has applied for the scholarship and then not gotten it,” Smith noted.

Any cost students do have left can be handled in payments if needed.

“We’ve taken payments as low as $5 per-month,” Smith said. “We don’t want the cost to be a barrier.”

Even costs for travel for programs, such as those at the Audubon, can be reduced as students aged 17 through 21 can receive gas cards.

Transportation to those programs is the students’ responsibility, but Smith said students often carpool.

So far, she said, the program has been a success. So much so that they’ve extended into Erie County to provide services in the Erie and Corry areas.

“We’ve had some really good outcomes,” Smith said. “We’ve gotten our first five years under our belt and are starting out sixth.”