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Maine's Campaign to Boost GED Completion Rates Yields Results
11/14/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Beginning next year, Maine will use a different GED test than the one it currently offers. Last winter, with the expiration of the current exam on the horizon, state education officials and FAME - the Finance Authority of Maine - launched a statewide public awareness campaign. The goal was to get people who had walked away from work on their GED to return and finish up by the end of this year. As Jay Field reports, the strategy appears to be paying off.

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Last year, close to 1,900 people completed work on general equivalency diplomas in Maine. By contrast, after the first 10 months of this year, the number was nearly 2,700, and climbing.

"We thought maybe we would increase our numbers by 10 percent over last year and we have far exceeded that," says Gail Senese, who heads up adult education at the Maine Department of Education. And Senese traces this surge in so-called "completers" back to last winter, when she and her staff began meeting with business development and college access counselors at FAME.

"They did a focus group with students and adult educators to find out what kind of message would generate a response,' Senese says. "We didn't want it to be a fearful message. But we wanted to make sure people got the point."

This messaging formed the backbone of an agressive public relations campaign to get as many non-completers as possible to finish their GEDs by the end of the year. Elizabeth Vanderweide heads up business development at FAME.

"That particular goal - to get as many Maine residents to complete their GED so they could go on to higher ed - was part of our grant writing initiative," Vanderweide says.

Vandeweide says it was money from the College Access Challenge, a federal grant program, that allowed FAME to develop a multi-pronged strategy around the GED.

The agency worked with the Maine Adult Education Association to launch a new Web site. It sent posters urging completion to adult education centers in every corner of the state. And it supplied the centers with post cards to mail out to anyone who had started a GED and quit. "We also had a spring time set of events," Vanderweide says, "and then this September, we had a set of events."

Vanderweide says FAME contracted with a marketing firm, which ovesaw the production of radio and TV spots, like this one:

GED COMPLETER: "Gettin' my GED changed my life. I remember sittin' in the parking lot that first day, just shakin'. Now, I'm studying to be an RN and my life is really on the move.

ANNOUNCER: Visit, or your local adult ed center, and take your story to the next level."

"It hit home," Gail Senese says. "And then the momentum of when some people started to come back - they become cheerleaders for friends, family, co-workers."

Officials at FAME say they wish they had enough funding to do this kind of outreach every year. That's because roughly half the people who start a GED in Maine don't end up finishing.


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