Legislators Have a Shot to Improve Adult Education

Earning a high school degree or credential is a critical step toward Texans accessing opportunities that will allow them to provide for their families and reach their full potential. However, about 3.4 million Texans over 18 don’t yet have a high school credential. This makes Texas the lowest-performing state in the nation for high school credential attainment.

We can do better.

This legislative session there are several bills that would remove barriers low-income Texans face when trying to earn a high school equivalency. CPPP supports these proposals to make it easier for those who do well on the high school equivalency exam to access higher education.

Texas is near-worst in the country in our investments in adult learners. These are adults who go back to school to advance their careers. The state has an ambitious strategic higher education plan aimed at ensuring 60 percent of Texas adults between the ages of 25 and 34 earn a postsecondary credential by 2030. If we want to reach the goals of the “60x30TX” plan, then the Legislature can no longer ignore the needs of adult learners.

High School Equivalency Exams in Texas

High school equivalency (HSE) exams are the general name for a specific group of tests approved to count for a high school credential. There are three administrators of High School Equivalency Exams approved through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board:

  • General Education Development exam (GED®), a product of Pearson
  • High School Equivalency Test (HiSET®), administered by the Education Testing Service
  • Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC®) offered by the Data Recognition Corporation

TASC has decided to no longer operate in Texas after September 2019, at which point only the GED and HiSET will remain available.

Legislative Action to Improve HSE Attainment

HB 1891, by Representative Lynn Stucky, and SB 2130, by Senator Beverly Powell, would allow Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB)-approved HSE exam scores to count as exemptions to the Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA). These bills would allow THECB- approved HSE exams to count for college readiness standards.

Currently, Texans must take and pass the TSIA before enrolling in college courses that count for credit. Students who take and score well on the SAT, ACT, and/or STAAR exams are exempted from the TSIA, automatically qualifying them as “college ready.”

However, the state does not offer TSIA exemptions to students who do exceptionally well on any of the three approved high school equivalency exams. That means that currently, even if a Texan gets a perfect score on the high school equivalency exam, they do not immediately qualify as “ready” for college and would still have to take either the TSIA or the other expensive tests before enrolling in college-level classes.

For many Texans, the process of studying for and performing well on a HSE exam is arduous and can involve substantial preparation costs, extensive hours of studying, and the significant stress of balancing preparation with maintaining personal and familial well-being and financial stability.

HB 1891 and SB 2130, if passed, would ensure that adult learners in Texas who perform well on HSE exams will not have to be subjected to more numerous hours of preparation, additional costs, and the stress of an additional exam that evaluates the same skills. Both HB 1891 and SB 2130 would also provide Texans more incentives to take and do well on the HSE exams and the ability to pursue a college education with fewer barriers to entry.

HB 1891 passed the full House and is headed to the Senate, while SB 2130 is set to be heard in the Senate Higher Education Committee on April 24t.

Additionally, Representative Diego Bernal has filed HB 441, which would have the Texas Workforce Commission provide subsidies to HSE exam takers. If passed, Representative Bernal’s bill would represent a $1.5 million investment in adult learners over the next two years. Considering Texas’ dismal performance in adult learner investment, helping Texans cover the cost of HSE exams would be one step in a positive direction toward the 60x30TX goals.

HB 441 passed out of the House Committee on International Relations and Economic Development and can now be heard on by the entire House chamber.

Legislators have the opportunity this session to show their dedication both to improving higher education outcomes in Texas and investing in adult learners who have historically been left out of the state’s investment priorities.

Recent Trends

Despite the lack of state investment in adult learners in Texas, numerous Texans earned HSE credentials last year. In 2018, 42,078 Texans took the GED, with 21,000 Texans earning the certificate. Just over 5,000 – or nearly 25 percent of GED certificates – were awarded to Texans in a correctional institution.

Some areas in Texas have standout numbers of GED earners. Senate District 29, in the El Paso area, produced the highest number of GED certificate earners, with 1,124 GED earners in 2018.

Senate District 1 in northeast Texas also had a large number of GED certificate earners (994) along with Senate District 5 which had 853 certificate earners. House district 76 in the El Paso area was the leader in GED certificate awards in 2018, with 701 credential earners that year.

A remarkable 695 of the GED certificates earned in the El Paso area were earned through El Paso Community College.

An additional 562 Texans earned high school credentials through the HiSET and TASC examinations in 2018.

Supporting and passing bills like HB 1891, SB 2130, and HB 441 would help to ensure greater access to postsecondary education opportunities and ultimately greater economic prosperity for the state. As the state with the highest number of people without a high school credential, investment in adult learners will be critical for reaching our state’s higher education goals.

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