Numbers down for Crowder's high school equivalency class

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Changes in funding could be cause of drop in enrollment

The Adult Education and Literacy program at Crowder College offers free classes to help individuals obtain high school equivalency degrees and offers assistance with college preparation.

In the past, the education credential received has been referred to as the general equivalency/education diploma, or GED, but the name changed to high school equivalency test, or HSE, which is provided by HiSET.

Obtaining a high school diploma or its equivalent is paramount in today's employment market for obtaining a good job, and is a basic prerequisite for numerous jobs.

AEL Instructor Janet Ballard has been promoting and teaching AEL classes since 2007, helping individuals obtain the equivalency of a high school diploma, but due to declining enrollment, she could no longer teach classes at a satellite location in Seligman.

For reasons not completely clear, enrollment in the equivalency program has dwindled the last couple of years at Crowder.

"We each have teachers at different sites," Ballard said. "I do Seligman and Cassville evenings, someone else does Cassville days. Usually by the end of our year, August through June, we have a graduate list of about 18 students. This year we only had four. I look back at my old records, and one year we had 22, another 20, another 15, so I averaged 18. Last year. there we only had eight or nine.

"It's hit a decline, and I really don't know why. They say state-wide we're low. We've hit that wall all year for AEL. Our numbers at Crowder for the AEL program are lower at every site we have. We didn't have near as many walk-in graduations. That's not uncommon, because some start in August then are done in November, and we don't have graduations for all of our sites until June and some move or get jobs by then."

Ballard said the AEL program helps people finish high school, but instructors help with college preparation as well and referrals to resources.

"We do other things also, like a compass test preparation that people must take before attending college that helps determine where they're at academically," Ballard said.

By helping students prepare for the test, Ballard said the AEL program increases chances they will not have to spend time and money taking developmental classes when they start college.

"They need to know they don't have to take those classes but can get better prepared to start college," she said. "We also help people who just want to increase their basic skills and brush up on a few things. But our main traffic flow is the high school equivalency."

Recently, Ballard thanked city of Seligman aldermen for providing a place for students to attend AEL classes, and for support of its students.

"I always go and thank them for offering a place for us to have class and thank them for supporting us," said Ballard, who said the city let them use the museum to hold classes, provided Internet service, and even helped cover test fees. "The city of Seligman will help pay test fees as long as I make the referral. When I have a student who is test-ready and has met classroom obligations, and if they're a Seligman student, I ask for them to pay all or even part of the test fee. If the money is the only thing holding them back, they'll usually help cover it."

Ballard said the cost is $95.

Instructors also help advocate for students, make referrals for job-seeking assistance, and perks are offered for completing the program.

"We try to stay in contact or refer them to the career center," she said. "When they come through our program and pass the high school equivalency program, Crowder will waive the tuition on one college class, a three-hour credit course, which is a $300 benefit. That's partly what I'm doing now that students have graduated. We like to help them with those goals.

"Crowder only has so many dollars to pay their teachers, so with the lower numbers, they closed out summer classes [in Seligman] around May 22. We're down to about six students in Cassville and some of them have already quit there for the summer, which runs from June 18 to Aug. 18."

Ballard said due to the low enrollment, it wasn't feasible to continue sending her there.

She believes declining enrollment in AEL classes may be related to funding changes.

"We call it the funding formula lines," she said. "Just because a student walked in doesn't mean we get to count them in our funding. For instance, if a student comes in for a few hours of classes but things happen and they don't return, that affects our funding.

"If the student stops attending, in their eyes, we didn't follow up. They're supposed to put in at least 40 hours. It used to be if they were here 12 hours, we could test them and show progress, and we'd get our funding line on them."

Ballard said Crowder cannot do that until students have hit their 40 hours.

"So, they have to keep coming, and we have to keep them interested," she said. "People change jobs, they go from a day to evening shift, or move, and that's not anyone's fault, but that hurts our funding. Anyone that hasn't put in at least 12 hours, we can't even count them at all."

Another example of how the new funding policy works against enrollment is if there is a high school student who is behind and could potentially graduate, but the program can't help them due to the stipulations. Another factor that could be affecting enrollment is a name change, as Ballard said people may not be familiar with the HSE.

Although not certain they are the causes, both of these changes have occurred in the last two years, when enrollment began declining.

The AEL program offers assistance with high school equivalency test preparation, basic skills review, and college and career transitions including Compass and career readiness tests offered at local career centers. AEL classes are free and available in Anderson, Aurora, Cassville, Granby, Jane, Monett, Mount Vernon, Noel, Seligman and Southwest City. Classes used to be offered in Shell Knob but the site closed, Ballard said.

Ballard said AEL instructors are all about supporting education and want to help individuals get their high school equivalency, a better job if they need one, help them prepare for college and improve skills.

Looking ahead, Ballard was hopeful for the next school year.

"Maybe we will be really busy next year," she said.

For more information on classes or to enroll and utilize services offered by the AEL program, people may call Janet Ballard at 417-342-8811 or the Cassville Crowder College campus at 417-847-1706.

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