By Jessica Connor
A resolution to help local churches become high school equivalency testing centers will go before S.C. United Methodists at Annual Conference.
Currently, people who drop out of high school are able to take a pencil-and-paper General Education Development test to get their degree “ thereby enabling them to achieve a higher-paying job or even go to college.
But in January, the GED Testing Service will change to a computer-based system, with only eight testing centers across the state and 47 alternate sites with limited availability. They will also increase test costs from $75 to $120, and anyone who has passed sections of the five-part test but still has some to complete will have to take the whole test over if all five are not completed by January.
Concerned that these changes will make it even harder for those without a high school equivalency degree to get one, Greenville District Connectional Ministries believes The United Methodist Church can help.
After all, per the UMC s Book of Discipline, the church has a responsibility to help ensure quality education for all. An estimated 418,000 South Carolinians ages 18-64 (14.5 percent of the population) are without a high school diploma or equivalency, the resolution maintains. And given poverty issues, lack of access to computers, computer illiteracy and limited testing slots, churches should be doing their part to help those who wish to improve their lives through a GED.
The resolution calls for the conference to do two major things: 1) Advocate through Conference Connectional Ministries and its 12 DCMs for a more affordable and non-computer-based high school equivalency test, and 2) Create a conference-wide task force that will develop a plan for local churches to become high school equivalency test centers, plus offer testing preparation programs. This plan would be presented to the bishop by Nov. 18, when American Education Week begins, and implemented through DCMs across the conference, with reports to the full Annual Conference each June.
This is not just another resolution but a call for action, said Curtis Askew, member of St. Matthew United Methodist Church, Taylors, who brought the idea for the resolution to the Greenville DCM. This is something we can do.
Askew “ a social scientist and the first person in his family to get a college degree “ knows the value of higher education, both for a person s self-development and for the economy on a local, regional and national scale.
You can t drop out of school and have a middle-class lifestyle anymore, Askew said, noting how many without a diploma or equivalency degree are stuck in low-paying jobs or eventually no job at all because the jobs are going to people with higher education.
The Upstate is the economic engine for the South Carolina manufacturing-based sector, yet it is shifting from the traditional dark dank of yesteryear to one where you need to have advanced education or certification, where you must work side by side with robots, Askew said.
However, he noted, 90 percent of all American colleges accept the GED for admissions, so if churches can help people get their degree and improve their lives, while also helping unchurched people to see the benefit of church generally, then it s only a positive.
This is a gateway, Askew said of the degree, not only to human development but also to better jobs “ and a better economy. The end result is you raise per capita income, raise people s quality of life and increase people s connection with the church.
The Rev. Robert Cox, member of the Greenville DCM and the district s communications coordinator, said the resolution is a real opportunity for the church to step in and help people change their lives.
In my 20 years of ministry, one of the things I ve discovered is that education is the key to eliminating poverty, and as United Methodists, we are committed to the public education system, Cox said. Whatever reason some persons were not successful in public education, we need to hel
p them address that issue and at least get their GED.
With the changes taking place in the GED program “ more expensive and requiring computer skills, which not everyone has “ the church has a responsibility to help, he said.
The Rev. Janice Frederick-Watts, also a member of the Greenville DCM, said taking this step with the GED will be transformational, not only for individual lives but for families, communities and ultimately the nation.
I believe that we stand at a critical place that will define who we truly are as the people of God. We are called to offer Christ, and in offering Christ, we also call others to live ˜a whole, participatory life, Watts said. The Church has been empowered since its inception to transform lives. Before us lies an opportunity to put our belief into action. We cannot stand by and not speak to the needs of the people in our communities.
By enabling churches to be testing sites, the UMC can help others dream dreams and step into lives they never thought possible. Let us grasp this moment, Watts said.
Askew said he hopes Annual Conference members will recognize the importance of the resolution both for helping people achieve their degree and for being Christ s hands and feet in the world.
We talk a good game (at church), but are we truly engaging? Askew said. We are hypocrites if we recognize the problem and don t do anything about it. If something as simple as a high school diploma can double your earnings and improve your life, then it s a no-brainer that we do something to help make this happen.
The resolution will be handed out in full at Annual Conference.