Heading back to school to earn a high school equivalency diploma can be difficult for adults who have been out of school for a long time, those who work or those who have family commitments.
Melissa Maggard, 25, of Westminster, never graduated from high school in Pennsylvania after falling short on credits in her senior year as a result of family issues, she said.
At 24, she decided it was time to go back to school to earn a General Education Development certificate, commonly called a GED, at Carroll Community College.
"I had a hard time in high school and I just kept putting it off, putting it off and putting it off," Maggard said. "Just everyone in my life said you should do this — not only to benefit yourself career-wise but to make you feel better as a person."
Today she will be one of 14 students recognized during a ceremony at Carroll Community for earning high school equivalency diplomas through the GED and National External Diploma programs. The ceremony is held once a year at Carroll Community for students who have passed the GED or NEDP exams.
People who return to school to earn their high school equivalency certificates must pass the GED or NEDP tests. The GED test has four modules: language arts, science, reading and mathematical reasoning, whereas the NEDP evaluates reading, writing, math and workforce readiness skills.
"There are a number of adults who can't complete; they have things that happen in their lives and they're unable to complete in the same calendar year," said Raiana Mearns, manager of adult education programs at Carroll Community. "They might come back at a different time, and we've welcomed them back but not everyone is able to complete as they had hoped."
Carroll Community is one of 20 public GED testing centers in Maryland. GED program classes are free, Mearns said. The test, which is subsidized by the state, costs $45, or $11.25 per module. Students who are interested in taking the NEDP, which is an online program, are required to pay a program fee of $120, according to Mearns.
Both the GED and NEDP programs are designed to meet students at their level, Mearns said. Some adults might come in without basic math skills, while others might have completed all but their final semester of high school, she said.
There is a 15-month time limit for students taking the NEDP, but there is no time limit for the GED program, Mearns said.
"We're starting wherever they need to start," Mearns said.
Maggard said she had been out of high school for a while when she began taking the GED courses, and that's why it took her about a year to pass the test.
"At the time when I was in high school I really wasn't paying attention so I wasn't retaining a lot; I just had the basic information," said Maggard, who passed the test in September. "I just went until I knew I was pretty confident if I took the test I would pass."
When students enroll, they take a pre-test, which measures skill levels in reading and math, Mearns said. Students are then placed in appropriate classes based on their skill levels.
"We will post-test them again after 40 hours of instruction to see how they are doing, if they are ready to move up to the next class," Mearns said, adding that test scores are compared at the pre-test and post-test level.
A new state law for compulsory attendance now prevents students from withdrawing from high school before the age of 17. Students are now required to be at least 17 years old to take the GED tests, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Because Carroll County Public Schools has a high graduation rate, Mearns said, she doesn't expect the change to have much of an effect on Carroll Community's GED program.
According to the 2014 Maryland Report Card, 94.41 percent of Carroll County Public Schools students in a four-year adjusted cohort graduated from high school in 2013, as compared to a statewide percentage of 84.95 for students in the same cohort.
"I don't know that there will be a significant change," Mearns said. "Going from 16 to 17 I don't know that we'll get too many people at 16 that will want to be in our program that can't."
Maggard, who works at an Old Navy store, said earning her GED opened up additional employment opportunities.
"Around the time that I started this program, I was applying for jobs, and even just saying I was in the program to get my diploma helped me get a job," Maggard said.
With support from staff at Carroll Community, Maggard said, she plans to enroll in college-level courses at Carroll Community.
"I'm not quite sure what major I want to do, but I definitely know that college is something that I intend to go through, so hopefully I'll be starting in the spring," she said.
Maggard said for those who might be hesitant to take the test: "You never really know unless you try it."
Call 410-386-8630. The fall session is closed, though courses resume in the spring.