From the Sun sentinel.com
by Scott Travis
Many of Florida’s high school dropouts are giving up the chance to go back to school because they now are required to pay tuition.
Enrollment in GED preparation classes has fallen 70 percent in Broward County and 61 percent in Palm Beach County.
Students are also fleeing several other adult education classes as well, including English classes for non-native speakers. Statewide, about 338,000 people took basic adult education classes last year, and state figures show the decline to be at least 38 percent this year. These classes used to be free, but students must now pay as much as $360 a year.
“This results in an unskilled labor force whose repercussions will be felt throughout a large sector of the economy,” said Mary Barrett, director of adult education programs in Palm Beach County.
The Legislature passed a law last spring that requires state residents to pay $45 for six months of classes. Those who can’t document they’ve lived in the state for at least a year and are U.S. citizens are charged a nonresident rate of $180 for six months.
Educators say some students can’t even afford the in-state tuition, while many others have been unable to provide documentation for the lower rate. Many of those looking for these programs are out of work, said John Miracola, who oversees the adult programs for the Broward County School District.
“They go to an employer for a job, and they’re asked if they have a high school education. The response is no, so they’re told to go back and get a GED,” he said. “But they’re out of work and can’t afford to pay, so it becomes a vicious cycle.”
The state Legislature enacted the fees as a way to help offset budget cuts and to give students more incentive to complete the courses. Only about a third of students who take many of these classes successfully complete them, a state report found.
“There was discussion that if you don’t have skin in the game, you don’t really care whether you’re there,” said state Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, who chairs a committee on higher education funding. “The completion rates were bad, and people just weren’t showing up.”
Legislators say it’s too soon to tell whether the students who are enrolled are performing better than those in the past. The law does not affect adult continuing education programs, such as pottery or dancing, which have always charged fees.
Some states that have implemented similar fees for basic adult ed classes have seen enrollments initially drop and then start to rise again over time, said Tara Goodman, an administrator with the Florida Department of Education.
“If you have to get your high school diploma, and this is the primary method to increase your skills, you may find a way to make it happen,” she said.
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