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Mará Rose Williams: New adult ed programs put degrees, certifications in the hands of more graduates

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About 60 percent of U.S. adults ages 25 to 64 have no education credentials beyond a high school diploma, a condition higher education providers here are out to change.

In 2008, President Barack Obama challenged colleges and technical school officials to flip the switch on degree attainment so that 60 percent of adults in that age bracket could instead be waving some post-secondary education qualification by 2025.

To that end, degree attainment is one of the top issues on the Missouri Department of Higher Education’s to-do list for 2015. More students will be guided through to graduation. Last year, the state launched an initiative that allows students without enough four-year college credits for a bachelor’s degree to transfer those credits back to a community college where they would qualify for an associate’s degree.

In Kansas, the state Board of Regents, in partnership with the Kansas Department of Commerce, this year is taking statewide a program that presents opportunities for adults with a high school diploma or equivalent to get post-secondary credentials. That program matches a higher education path to the work the adult is currently doing and covers most of the cost.

They call it getting unstuck.

We know from U.S. Census data that among all workers, those with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent post-secondary education on average earn tens of thousands more per year than workers with only a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Along those lines, the president last week pushed for free community college tuition.

The Accelerating Opportunity initiative was launched in five states, including Kansas, in 2012. Programs were started at 42 community colleges, including nine in Kansas. One is Washburn Institute of Technology in Topeka, where 56-year-old John Green, a member of the program’s first class, earned certifications as a nursing aide and home health aide, and to administer medications.

Green said he hadn’t sat in a college classroom since the 1980s. He’d gotten his GED in the 1970s and was stuck doing physical labor most his life. Then circumstances sent him to work at a Veterans Affairs treatment center. He liked it and wanted that career.

“But without this program I never could have afforded a higher education,” he said.

He worked days and went to class in the evenings for 18 months. Now he is a resident manager at a Kansas facility for people with mental illness and works weekends at a senior living center. From time to time he does some home health care.

Getting those credentials, Green said, “has brought me more peace, financial stability and more purpose.”

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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