FAIRBANKS - An alternative to a high school graduation diploma, the General Education Development credential, increasingly is being obtained by Alaska teenagers.
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The GED was intended for adult high school dropouts but a new report says more teens then ever are getting them.
The report released last month by Education Week magazine said 41 percent of Alaska GED candidates in 2004, the latest data available, were 16, 17 or 18 years old. Only five states had higher rates than Alaska.
In the last 12 months, 726 people signed up in the Fairbanks area to take the GED, according Adult Learning Programs of Alaska, an agency that administers the test. Of those, 228 were 18 years old and younger.
The GED was developed in 1942 to help World War II veterans finish high school and get back into civilian life. A few years later, it was offered to civilian adults and is now offered in all 50 states.
Adult high school dropouts still make up the largest number of test takers.
Rebecca Morse, ALPA executive director, said the usual GED candidate in Fairbanks is 35 to 45 years old. Many have been performing manual labor and want to change jobs requiring additional academic background.
"Lots of people will come in and say, 'I'm doing it because I want my children to know how important it is to complete school,"' Morse said.
Morse said she has been surprised at the number of teenagers taking the test.
"The GED was always meant to be a measurement at a certain point in an adult's life, not a 16-year-old's life," she said.
Some Fairbanks teenagers are choosing to take the GED because they want to finish high school early.
During the 2004-2005 school year, 52 teenagers chose to leave high school in Fairbanks to take the GED tests. Alaska law requires 16- and 17-year-olds to have a parent's permission and be officially withdrawn from school before they can attempt to earn a GED.
Superintendent Ann Shortt does not see students opting to take the GED rather than finishing high school as a major problem.
"For some students it probably makes sense for them to get their GED," she said.
She would encourage students considering the GED option to think hard about their goals.
"My hope would be that students are making good decisions so that they have a future," Shortt said.
The GED was not intended to replace a high school diploma.
"Can you get to the same place (with a GED)? For the most part, yes," Morse said. "But it will take you longer to get there."
According to the American Council on Education, the independent organization that administers GED tests, more than 95 percent of U.S. universities and colleges will accept students with GED credentials.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks admits GED holders, though not necessarily to a full degree-seeking program, said Mike Earnest, associate director of admissions. Admission to a four-year degree at UAF requires students to have completed certain classes in high school. Applicants with a GED, Earnest said, cannot verify that they have completed those required core classes in high school.
They can enroll as a non-degree-seeking student or in a two-year associate's or certificate program and then apply for a four-year program later after they have a few college classes, Earnest said.
Some colleges are more restrictive. Boise State University in Idaho admits GED holders as students on a provisional basis. If they do not complete a battery of core classes within three semesters after enrolling, they will be removed from their degree-seeking program and denied access to financial aid.
Of the 60 percent of GED test takers who say they intend to further their education and the nearly 50 percent who enroll at a college or university, only 10 percent actually earn a degree, according to findings released in a new report from Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based nonprofit agency.
Military service is also restricted for those with GED credentials.
The Air Force allows, under normal circumstances, just 1 percent of their recruits each year to be GED holders, but they must score higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery tests than a high school graduate. High school graduates can join the Air Force when they are 17, with a parent's permission, but those with GEDs must wait until they are 18.
The Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard all have similar requirements, according to their Web sites. Army recruits with only a GED under their belts are ineligible for enlistment bonuses.
Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com