Kentucky could reap big benefits from free GED testing

Published 6:06 am Thursday, January 9, 2020


The Advocate-Messenger

Gov. Andy Beshear made a good decision for Kentucky’s workforce and Kentuckians’ earning potential when he waived all GED testing fees this week.

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It’s a change that will cost pennies compared to the ultimate benefits.

More than 300,000 Kentuckians currently do not have a high-school diploma or a GED. Most of those same Kentuckians are also among the lowest-income residents of the Bluegrass State.

The data is clear: people with high-school degrees or equivalents get better jobs and earn more money than those with only some or no high-school education. According to the U.S. Census, people with only an elementary-school-level education make a mean monthly income of $2,100 and people with some high-school education make about $2,400.

Contrast that with the mean income for GED holders of $3,100 and you can see what a difference a little more education can make. That’s more than $8,000 more every year for GED holders. And if those GED holders go on to obtain post-secondary certifications, their income takes another huge leap to $4,100 a month — more than $20,000 more annually.

Obviously, not all of the hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians without high-school degrees will seek GEDs, even now that the process can be free from beginning to end. But many will, and the long-term financial impact of that can be startling.

Waiving the GED test fees is expected to cost the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet around $600,000 annually. If the change created just 100 more GED recipients, it could result in more than $800,000 in additional annual salaries for those people. The $600,000 cost means Kentucky anticipates about 5,000 people obtaining their GED each year. After two years, if 10,000 people have earned GEDs for free — representing less than 3% of those without GEDs in the state — their combined additional annual income would be $84 million, and the taxes collected on that income just from income tax alone would be $4.2 million, dwarfing the initial investment cost.

Here in Boyle County, the community has already stepped up big-time to make sure earning a GED doesn’t have to cost money, removing a major barrier for people who often have very little money in their pockets. But the new guaranteed-free label that Boyle County Adult Ed can now put on its program will result in an uptick in people participating. If just 50 more people earn their GEDs over the next two years as a result of this change, that could mean $420,000 more in annual income for some of Boyle County’s poorest residents.

None of these figures account for further income growth if these new GED recipients pursue further educational certifications, but they also depend on those with GEDs being able to find work. Fortunately, as more Kentuckians get their GEDs and the average educational level of workers in the state rises, the state will become more attractive to businesses looking for an educated workforce.

It’s already free for every Kentuckian to attend high school and earn a high-school diploma, so in addition to making financial sense, it makes logical sense to extend that free education ride to those pursuing high-school diploma equivalency. Beshear’s change is a win for Kentucky in many ways.